MADRID: Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy faced calls to explain himself or resign over his alleged support for the ruling Popular Party’s disgraced former treasurer, who headed to court on Monday over a slush fund scandal.
The 58-year-old, grey-bearded premier has denied any wrongdoing and refused to comment in past weeks on the growing controversy centered on former party treasurer Luis Barcenas.
Pressure on Rajoy mounted, however, as more allegations were revealed and as the 55-year-old Barcenas faced a High Court judge to answer questions over secret political payments.
Barcenas was called to appear in the Madrid court after conservative daily El Mundo last week published what it said was an original page from Barcenas’ slush fund ledger and delivered the document to the court.
The excerpt purportedly showed extra payments from a secret fund to party officials including Rajoy when he was a minister under then-Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar in 1997, 1998 and 1999.
Barcenas is suspected of running a slush fund financed by corporate donors who were then rewarded with public contracts. The cash was allegedly used to supplement senior party members’ salaries.
In the latest blow to Rajoy, the conservative daily El Mundo on Sunday published friendly mobile text messages between the prime minister and Barcenas from May 2011 to March 2013, ending some two months after the scandal erupted.
“Luis, I understand, be strong. I will call you tomorrow. Best wishes,” said one of the messages reportedly from Rajoy to Barcenas, dated January 18 when El Mundo first published allegations over the slush fund.
“It is not good to try to determine what we will say or to comment on things that must be presented to the courts, which we must all respect,” read another message allegedly sent by Rajoy.
Barcenas reportedly told El Mundo in an interview published July 7 that the Popular Party had engaged in illegal financing for nearly 20 years.
The Popular Party has repeatedly denied secret financing allegations.