Spain's ruling party denies corruption charges

18th January 2013, Comments 0 comments

Spain's ruling cnetre-right Popular Party went on the defensive Friday against a new corruption scandal that threatens to further erode voters' confidence in politicians, already damaged by the country's severe economic downturn.

Popular Party secretary general Maria Dolores de Cospedal "categorically" denied a report that alleged under her watch senior party members collected undeclared salaries, mainly from private companies, which was published in the El Mundo newspaper.

Cospedal was nominated to the party's post in 2008 by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, in power since December 2011.

The centre-right newspaper, citing "five reliable sources of successive management boards of the party, reported that former Popular Party treasurer Luis Barcenas distributed during two decades envelopes containing between 5,000 and 15,000 euros to party directors on top of their official salaries.

"Rajoy, who according to Popular Party sources never touched these complementary payments, ordered Cospedal to put an end to this practice in 2009," the newspaper said.

"The money came from commissions collected from construction firms, insurance companies and anonymous donations."

The beneficiaries were "executive secretaries, elected officials and other members of the party apparatus."

The El Mundo report comes just two days after Spanish media reported that Barcenas and several others who were not named have a Swiss bank account with 22 million euros.

"The Popular Party's accounts are clear, transparent and inspected by the Court of Auditors," Cospedal said.

"You belong to a great party which defends decency and whoever does something (wrong) pays for it," she told a gathering of Popular Party members in Almeria.

The latest report however sparked a firestorm of criticism from voters on social media sites and opposition parties.

"Mister Rajoy should provide explanations immediately," said the head of the main opposition Socialist Party, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba.

Members of Spain's "indignant" movement, which occupied the main square in Madrid and several other cities in 2011 to protest against economic inequality and corruption, have called for a protest outside of the Popular Party's headquarters later on Friday.

"It is like we have broken new ground in the growing divorce between citizens and politicians in Spain" with the succesive corruption revelations, said Fernando Vallespin, a political science professor at Madrid's Autonomous University.

Barcenas was already investigated in 2009 as part of a corruption probe involving businessmen with ties to the Popular Party.

The successive allegations of corruption involving political parties in Spain have added to concerns in Spain which is mired in recession, drowning in debt and saddled with an unemployment rate exceeding 25 percent.

Spaniards' distrust of their leaders and worries over corruption have increased steadily in recent months, according to a monthly barometer published by the Sociological Research Center, a public body.

"There was a certain amount of tolerance" before the economic downturn in Spain, but not now, said Vallespin, adding that the country needed an "ethical catharsis".

© 2013 AFP

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