Spanish opposition figure steps down over scandal

20th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

A close ally of Spain's opposition leader Mariano Rajoy on Wednesday announced his resignation as head of the eastern Valencia region's autonomous government over a corruption scandal.

"I am resigning from the government of Valencia," Francisco Camps told a news conference, just one week after a judge ordered his trial for alleged corruption.

"It is a personal decision, in favour of my party, which hopes that Mariano Rajoy will be the next head of government," he said.

He again denied any wrongdoing, saying he was resigning "with a clear conscience".

"Nothing has been proven because there is nothing," he said.

Hours later, leaders of the regional branch of Spain's conservative opposition Popular Party (PP) held an emergency meeting at which they named Alberto Fabra, the mayor of the city of Castellon, to succeed Camps.

A judge at the High Court in Valencia ruled on July 15 that Camps must face charges over alleged bribes, in the form of clothing worth 14,000 euros ($20,000), received from businessmen in exchange for contracts.

Three other former members of Camps' administration are also charged in the case, including his former deputy, Ricardo Costa.

Despite the scandal, Camps was re-elected with a strong majority as head of the autonomous government in regional elections on May 22.

In August 2009, a court in Valencia had dropped an investigation into Camps.

But in May last year, Spain's Supreme Court ordered the reopening of the probe following an appeal by prosecutors and the local branch of the Socialist Party.

Rajoy has backed Camps throughout the scandal.

But the PP hopes to win general elections scheduled by March 2012, and already has a strong lead in opinion polls over the Socialists of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero as Spain battles an economic crisis.

Rajoy said Wednesday that Camps' "very hard" decision "will not undermine his presumption of innocence" and "will not affect the opinion that I have always had of Francisco Camps and his honour".

Ramon Jauregui, the central government minister who handles relations with parliament, said Camps' decision was "logical".

Around 70 people, including several PP members in Valencia and Madrid, are under investigation in connection with the scandal, known as the Gurtel case, which also led to the resignation of the PP's former treasurer, Luis Barcenas.

Francisco Correa, a businessman and PP event organiser, and Pablo Crespo, a former head of the PP in the northwestern region of Galicia, were arrested in February 2009 and are awaiting trial.

Camps has been a target of Spain's so-called "indignant" activists, who have organised mass protests and marches since May 15 against political corruption, the economic crisis and soaring unemployment.

© 2011 AFP

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