Spain's opposition hits back over corruption probe

12th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

The Popular Party cuts off all contacts with the justice minister, calls for removal of judge Baltasar Garzon, announces its leader Mariano Rajoy.

MADRID – Spain's opposition leader Wednesday hit back over a corruption scandal, announcing he is severing all contacts with Madrid's justice minister and calling for the removal of the judge in the case.

"We are doing everything in our power to ensure that no one soils the name of our party," Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy said following a meeting of party officials.

He accused Justice Minister Mariano Fernandez Bermejo and leading judge Baltasar Garzon of leaking information on the case to the press in a bid to influence regional elections scheduled for 1 March in the northwestern Basque Country and Galicia.

"This is not a PP affair but an affair against the PP," he said at party headquarters, surrounded by senior party members.

The PP has decided "to break off all contacts with the ministry of justice while Bermejo is the head," he said. "Garzon must stay away from this case in favour of the credibility of the justice system."

The conservative leader said he took the decision after the El Mundo newspaper reported that Garzon and Bermejo had gone on a hunting trip together on the weekend before the scandal broke.

Bermejo reacted by accusing the PP of issuing "smokescreens" and of "attacking institutions in order to cover up" internal problems.

The corruption scandal erupted on Friday when Garzon ordered the arrest of five people with close ties to the party who are suspected of bribery, influence peddling and money laundering.

It deepened on Tuesday when it was disclosed that Garzon, best-known internationally for his pursuit of Latin American dictators, had so far charged 37 people including three main suspects.

One of the three is Francisco Correa, an entrepreneur who has organised PP events and who media reports say is behind murky building permits and other lucrative contracts awarded by PP municipal councils in Madrid, Valencia and elsewhere.

The corruption scandal follows allegations made in January in left-wing daily newspaper El Pais that the Madrid regional government had spied on internal rivals of its head Esperanza Aguirre, a former PP education minister.

No top PP official is accused of involvement in either affair, and Rajoy noted that only two of the 37 accused were local leaders of the party.

"The PP had nothing to do with any illegal acts of persons arrested," he said.

He has announced an internal investigation into the corruption allegations while the Madrid regional government is probing the spying allegations.

The regional elections in Galicia and the Basque Country are seen as a test of his leadership.

[AFP / Expatica]

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