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Spanish conservative party acquitted of destroying evidence

A court in Spain on Wednesday acquitted the country’s main opposition conservative Popular party (PP) of destroying computer hard drives that allegedly had incriminating information on a corruption case.

The PP went on trial in June accused of “damaging computers”, along with three former party members who were charged with the same offence, as well as concealing evidence. It was the first time that a political party went on trial in the country.

The party was accused of having in 2013 taken away the hard drives belonging to its longtime former treasurer Luis Barcenas at its Madrid headquarters before investigators had access to them and Jose Manuel Moreno, one of the defendants who was an IT specialist at the PP, allegedly wiped them clean.

The hard drives may have had information about an alleged illegal funding racket within the PP which was in power at the time but a Madrid court on Wednesday acquitted the three former PP members and the party due to a lack of evidence.

The court said it was not clear “if the destroyed hard drives stored any data or archives when Jose Manuel Moreno wiped them clean” and there was no proof that the hard drives were cleaned to hide evidence.

Defence lawyers had argued during the trial that the hard drives were cleaned to comply with Spain’s data protection laws.

At the time that the hard drives were cleaned, Barcenas was at the heart of a judicial probe over alleged parallel accounting that took place at the PP for years.

In May 2018, a court found the PP guilty of having benefited from funds obtained illegally and fined it more than 245,000 euros ($268,000). Barcenas was sentenced to 33 years in jail.

This court decision precipitated a parliamentary vote of no-confidence against then PP prime minister Mariano Rajoy in June 2018 in which he was overthrown by socialist leader Pedro Sanchez.