Span­ish PM takes stand as wit­ness at cor­rup­tion trial

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

SAN FER­NANDO DE HENARES:

Span­ish Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy de­nied yes­ter­day any knowl­edge of an il­le­gal fi­nanc­ing scheme within his con­ser­va­tive Pop­u­lar Party as he tes­ti­fied as a wit­ness at a ma­jor graft trial. It was the first time that a serv­ing prime min­is­ter in Spain has tes­ti­fied in a crim­i­nal case. The trial cen­ters on a vast kick­back scheme that al­legedly saw com­pa­nies shower for­mer PP law­mak­ers and civil ser­vants with bribes in ex­change for con­tracts and helped fund the party.

Ra­joy is not ac­cused of any­thing him­self but was asked to tes­tify be­cause as the party’s chief since 2004 — and a high­rank­ing mem­ber be­fore that-he would have knowl­edge of how the PP op­er­ated. “I never dealt with party eco­nomic af­fairs,” Ra­joy told the court dur­ing the pro­ceed­ings broad­cast live on Span­ish tele­vi­sion. He said there was a “clear sep­a­ra­tion” be­tween po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic party mat­ters within the PP and that his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties were al­ways “of the po­lit­i­cal sort”.

Dozens of pro­test­ers blew whis­tles and held ban­ners read­ing “Make the PP il­le­gal” as Ra­joy ar­rived by car at the Na­tional Court com­pound in San Her­nando de Henares on the out­skirts of Madrid. Ra­joy, 62, had asked to tes­tify by video-con­fer­ence, say­ing he was too busy to ap­pear in per­son, but Spain’s High Court or­dered him to come. He did not sit in the tra­di­tional wit­ness stand in front of the judges, but in­stead an­swered ques­tions-some­times testily-from the el­e­vated plat­form where the three judges sat. Two for­mer pre­miers-Felipe Gon­za­lez, an ex-So­cial­ist leader, and Adolfo Suarez, prime min­is­ter dur­ing Spain’s tran­si­tion to democ­ra­cyap­peared in court in sep­a­rate tri­als but they are no longer in of­fice.

Al­to­gether, 37 de­fen­dants face jus­tice in the case in­clud­ing two for­mer party trea­sur­ers and busi­ness­man Fran­cisco Cor­rea, the al­leged head of the net­work. Com­pa­nies would al­legedly give him a com­mis­sion of two to three per­cent on the value of public con­tracts. Cor­rea said in court that he would then give politi­cians in­volved in award­ing con­tracts some of the money.

His main ac­com­plice was al­legedly Luis Barce­nas, a for­mer PP man­ager and trea­surer who was once close to Ra­joy. Barce­nas is ac­cused of set­ting up a slush fund to top up the salaries of PP lead­ers. He has said he made pay­ments to top PP mem­bers, in­clud­ing Ra­joy. Dur­ing his tes­ti­mony on Wed­nes­day, Ra­joy re­it­er­ated that he never met Cor­rea and he dis­missed the al­le­ga­tions of se­cret pay­ments to PP of­fi­cials as “ab­so­lutely false”.

Asked in court whether he knew if there was an il­le­gal fi­nanc­ing scheme within the party or cash dona­tions from anony­mous donors, Ra­joy said: “Never.” The court ap­pear­ance was a ma­jor em­bar­rass­ment for Ra­joy, who has sought to dis­tance him­self from a se­ries of cor­rup­tion scan­dals that have hounded the party and con­trib­uted to the PP los­ing its ab­so­lute ma­jor­ity in the 2015 elec­tion. — AFP

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