Opposition Demands Spanish Leader's Resignation Over Scandal

Tuesday, 16 Jul 2013 05:02 AM

By Joel Himelfarb

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Spanish opposition leaders are calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy after a newspaper published text messages he reportedly sent to the ousted former treasurer of his political party — an individual at the heart of a burgeoning corruption scandal.

Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, leader of the opposition Socialist Party, called for Rajoy’s “immediate resignation,” saying his failure to step aside was doing “incalculable damage” to a country going through a major economic crisis.

On Monday, Rajoy said he would not resign

Rajoy’s governing Popular Party has been shaken by revelations about the conduct of Luis Barcenas, its former treasurer, and his relationships with Rajoy and other senior party members.

Barcenas is currently being investigated on suspicion of tax fraud and other crimes. He was jailed as a flight risk, having previously withheld information about secret Swiss accounts from the courts.

After reports of a secret party slush fund surfaced earlier this year, Rajoy went on television to deny them and declare his party’s fiscal honesty.

“All our tax contributions have been made with the strictest legality over all these years,” he said.

Barcenas left the position in 2009 after questions were raised about regional Popular Party politicians taking bribes in exchange for no-bid contracts. At the time, he denied ever having money in Switzerland.

But since January, investigators have uncovered more than $61 million Barcenas stashed offshore in Switzerland and possibly elsewhere, according to The New York Times.

In May, the financial crimes unit of the Spanish police released a report in which it said it had identified 19 of the fund’s political donors, who had received public contracts worth more than $15 billion from conservative politicians over a 10-year period.

Earlier this month, the newspaper El Mundo published what it said were text messages it said were exchanged between Rajoy and Barcenas, in which the Prime Minister appeared to be expressing solidarity with for the former treasurer even after the discovery of the Swiss account.

“Luis, I understand. Stay strong. I will call you tomorrow. A hug,” read one of the alleged messages from earlier this year when slush fund allegations broke.

The messages could “undermine the credibility of assurances given by top [Popular Party] leaders, who insist they knew nothing of Mr. Barcenas’s slush fund and that the party itself is the main victim of the treasurer’s dealings,” the Financial Times wrote.

El Mundo said documents show Rajoy received 42,000 Euros ($54,000) in payments while serving as a government minister from 1997 to 1999.

It remains to be seen whether the scandal could drive Rajoy from office. The Popular Party holds a commanding advantage in Parliament, and the next elections are scheduled for 2015. But the party’s popularity has plummeted, with a recent poll showing just 23 percent of respondents would vote for it — the lowest percentage since Rajoy came to power in November 2011.

Eighty-six percent of those surveyed said they did not trust the prime minister.

Reuters News Service Contributed to This Story


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