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Rajoy battles to save position amid corruption scandal
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SPANISH Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is battling to save his political career after facing increasing pressure to resign over the PP corruption scandal.
Nearly a million people have signed an online petition calling for him to step down, amid widespread protests.
Opinion polls show that 77% believe he is now no longer fit to lead the country, while 54% believe there should be a general election.
Opposition leader Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba has called for his head, demanding that Rajoy be grilled in Congress about the allegations.
The prime minister stands accused of accepting illegal cash payments made to top-ranking party officials over a 12-year period.
Rajoy however fiercely denies the claims, describing them as ‘totally false’ and has said he will publish his tax returns online.
Among the other politicians accused of taking ‘bungs’ are current General Secretary Maria Delores Cospedal, Senate President Pio Garcia Escudero and even former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.
The money was allegedly taken from a €22 million slush fund hidden in a Swiss bank account controlled by former party treasurer Luis Barcenas.
Barcenas kept secret ledgers of money received between 1990 and 2008 from donors, including firms, and it is these that show the alleged payments to Rajoy.
The notebooks, published by Spanish newspaper El Pais at the weekend, show the prime minister was allegedly paid €25,200 each year from 1999 to 2008.
Until 2007, Spanish political parties were allowed to receive anonymous donations – the ledgers were kept from 1990 to 2009.
The PP has threatened to sue those making the allegations, which it describes as a smear campaign.
But despite the denials, even Rajoy himself appeared to indicate there was some truth in the allegations, in a cryptic answer to a journalist’s question at a press conference in Berlin.
“Everything that refers to me, and that appears there, and to some of my fellow party members that appear there, is not right, except for something that the media has published,” he said.
Former PP deputy Jorge Trias Sagnier and five other former senior officials have already confirmed that party leaders received bungs.
Moreover, Spain’s chief state prosecutor has confirmed there could be enough evidence to investigate, and the PP has been forced to conduct an internal audit.
Barcenas – who controlled the slush fund – has already been forced to step down from his role as party treasurer after being implicated in the Gurtel corruption scandal, in Valencia.
The case involves the alleged awarding of construction contracts by the regional government, in exchange for cash donations.
Between 2002 and 2004, secret cash payments were made to Barcenas in exchange for public contracts for construction firm Constructora Hispanica.
Barcenas got €600,000 in cash during that time, but only put €114,000 through the PP books as political donations.
The rest is alleged to have been put into a central pot, which was then distributed by Barcenas and fellow treasurer Alvaro Lapuerta as backhanders to senior PP officials.
A total of €120 million, paid into the fund by a group of businessmen led by Francisco Correa, is believed to have gone undeclared.
The payment scandal comes against a backdrop of severe austerity, spending cuts and an unemployment rate of 26%. It also comes as Spain tries increasingly hard to raise taxes and penalise middle class earners.
On Monday, the threat of political upheaval forced Spanish bond yields to surge and stock markets to dive.
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