Spain's prime minister Mariano Rajoy made a defiant appearance before Congress yesterday, telling fellow lawmakers he would not resign over the corruption scandal surrounding his Partido Popular (PP).
In an extraordinary parliamentary session called to allow Mr Rajoy to offer Spaniards an explanation regarding a slew of corruption allegations, he denied any wrongdoing.
“I’m not going to resign and I’m not going to call elections,” he said in an opening address that lasted over an hour.
Mr Rajoy said he had for years been deceived by the PP’s former treasurer, Luis Bárcenas, the man at the centre of the scandal.
“Mr Bárcenas was a person I trusted in the party…I had no reason to doubt his honesty,” he said.
“I made a mistake by trusting somebody who we now know did not deserve my trust.”
Swiss bank account
The former party treasurer was jailed in June after being investigated for fraud. The PP had publicly backed Mr Bárcenas until the beginning of this year, when it was revealed he had stashed millions of euro in Swiss bank accounts.
Reportedly angry at the lack of legal support he was receiving from the PP, in January Mr Bárcenas started releasing to the media notebooks which he said detailed illegal donations companies had made to the party. The documents also appeared to log unlawful cash payments to senior party figures, including The prime minister.
Mr Rajoy denied having ever taken any such payments and said Bárcenas’s claims should not be taken seriously.
Known for his usually calm manner and reluctance to speak in public, Mr Rajoy was in bullish form, accusing opposition parties of tainting Spain’s image abroad and exploiting the scandal for their own political benefit.
“What you want is for me to declare myself guilty. You’re not asking me for an explanation,” he said. “I’m not going to declare myself guilty, because I’m not.”
During an often rowdy debate, Mr Rajoy’s own party frequently applauded his comments in a clear effort, it seemed, to counter the theory that some of his senior colleagues are unhappy at how he has handled the crisis.
Meanwhile, the opposition barracked him during much of his address.
In reply to the prime minister, Socialist leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba said he should resign because the scandal has eroded his credibility beyond repair.
“You have come here to try and save yourself,” he said. “Holding on [to power] is not a good thing when holding on does harm to the country you are governing. You are doing damage to Spain – I ask you to resign.”
With his PP holding a substantial majority in Congress, Mr Rajoy can resist calls for his resignation and would easily survive the no-confidence vote some opposition groups have threatened to hold.
However, the fact Mr Rajoy only agreed to offer his version of events after months of political pressure on him to do so risks compounding a commonly held view of him as an uncommunicative leader.