Spain ruling party denies alleged secret payments

31st January 2013, Comments 0 comments

Spain's ruling Popular Party blasted as lies a newspaper report Thursday of hand-written ledgers purportedly showing secret payments to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and other top party officials.

Leading daily El Pais ran photographs of the supposed ledgers on its front page, a potentially explosive story at a time when Rajoy's government is imposing steep spending cuts and higher taxes on a population suffering a jobless rate of 26 percent.

"This party categorically denies the contents of those alleged documents which were published," Popular Party secretary general Maria Dolores de Cospedal told a news conference.

The supposed ledgers were full of falsehoods, she said.

"There are many (allegations) that are lies, many, many. And I know that many that affect me are lies as well as those that affect others in my party. I know absolutely they are lies."

The party had only one set of accounts, which was clear, transparent and submitted to the government's official auditors, she said.

El Pais cited ledgers kept by two former party treasurers, Alvaro Lapuerta and Luis Barcenas, apparently showing the payments including 25,200 euros ($34,000) a year to Rajoy between 1997 and 2008.

But all top officials named in the report said the allegations were false.

Even Barcenas, one of the supposed authors of the ledger, roundly denied the report, saying none of the payments listed by El Pais were actually made while he had oversight of the party's accounts.

A spokeswoman for Rajoy said he reaffirmed earlier statements that officials would be held to account for any wrongdoing.

"There is absolutely nothing in the El Pais story about undeclared, extra payments," she told AFP.

El Pais said the alleged fund used for the payments was made up of donations, mostly from construction companies, adding that such payments would be legal as long as they were declared to the taxman.

Barcenas, who served for one year as the right-leaning party's treasurer and 19 as its assistant treasurer, is already under investigation following reports that he had stashed up to 22 million euros ($29 million) in Swiss bank accounts until 2009.

One photograph in El Pais showed a supposed 1999 ledger marked on one line: "M. Rajoy - second semester", with a sum of 2.1 million pesetas (12,600 euros) on the outgoing column.

Former IMF managing director and senior Popular Party official Rodrigo Rato was shown receiving 2.28 million pesetas for the same period. He, too, denied the allegation.

Another front-page photograph from 2008 purportedly showed Cospedal receiving 7,500 euros for the third quarter of the year, a claim she flatly rejected.

The Popular Party has ordered its legal department to "analyse the information that was published and study any action which it may take", it said in a statement.

The leader of the main opposition Socialist Party, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, said Rajoy needed to publicly make clear whether he received any sort of payments.

But Cospedal said she was convinced the allegations were designed to harm her party.

"I don't have the least doubt that the only intention of this supposed information is to harm the Popular Party, its leaders and in particular the prime minister. I don't have the least doubt," she added.

"The Popular Party has not accepted, does not accept and will not accept any type of blackmail."

Spain's prime minister this month ordered an internal review of his party's finances, to be submitted to an external audit.

That announcement followed a report in conservative daily El Mundo that senior members of the party had received secret payments.

El Mundo, citing unnamed former members of the party's leadership, had said Rajoy never received such payments. It said he ordered an end to the practice in 2009.

Rajoy took office in December 2011. He was the leader of the Popular Party in opposition between 2004 and 2011 and served as interior minister between 1996 and 2004 under then prime minister Jose Maria Aznar.

© 2013 AFP

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