Row over World Bank post threatens efforts to form government in Spain

Former minister disgraced by Panama Papers recommended for lucrative job

The proposed appointment of a disgraced Spanish former minister to a lucrative post at the World Bank has sparked outrage and threatens to hinder acting prime minister Mariano Rajoy's attempts to form a new government.

Madrid has presented José Manuel Soria as its representative to become an executive director at the Washington-based agency, a post which had a tax-free salary of $253,000 (€226,000) last year. But with his candidacy yet to be approved by the organisation itself, pressure is building for him not to take the job.

In April, revelations that Mr Soria had had a series of offshore business interests emerged in the Panama Papers. After initially denying the reports, he was forced into an embarrassing climbdown that culminated in his resignation and the apparent end of his frontline career in public office.

"They are shameless," tweeted Pablo Iglesias, leader of the leftist Podemos party. "Soria's punishment for the Panama Papers: a luxury job in the World Bank. It's a provocation."


However, there have also been critical voices from within Mr Rajoy's own conservative Popular Party (PP).

"Probably for a lot of people it's difficult to understand this appointment," said Alberto Núñez Feijóo, the PP's premier in Galicia, who has occasionally been touted as a successor to Mr Rajoy as PP national leader.

So, too, as has Madrid regional premier Cristina Cifuentes, who said of the World Bank candidacy: "This shouldn't have happened . . . Those who took this decision should explain it."

Mr Rajoy and his party have been corralled by corruption scandals for the past three years. The most damaging of those has seen an investigation into an alleged cash fund, which the PP’s former treasurer, Luis Bárcenas, says was financed by corporate bribes and used to pay senior party figures.

While the Soria affair is less damaging, it risks further isolating Mr Rajoy as he struggles to break an eight-month deadlock and form a new administration. Last week he fell short of the votes needed in congress to win an investiture vote and continue as prime minister. Fresh elections will be called – the third in 12 months – if a new government is not in place by the end of October.

Mr Soria's candidacy has been particularly awkward for Ciudadanos, the liberal party which backed Mr Rajoy's bid last week in return for the promise of reforms, including a clampdown on corruption. Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera said the acting prime minister would have to "explain the unexplainable in congress".

Mr Rajoy himself has appeared bewildered by the reaction to the World Bank case, insisting he had nothing to do with the former minister’s candidacy.

Nonetheless, there is a growing feeling that this could not have come at a worse time for the acting prime minister, as he considers whether to make another attempt to form a government.

"The PP is conspiring against itself in a perfect storm," said El País newspaper. "Unless the real objective of this political and aesthetic abuse is to motivate its allies and antagonists to force [new] elections."

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain