Spain’s treasurer questioned in corruption probe

Prosecutors questioned the former treasurer of Spain’s prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s party yesterday in an investigation launched following new allegations of corruption.

Luis Barcenas, already charged in another major graft case, declined to speak to reporters before or after spending two hours at the anti-corruption prosecutor’s office in Madrid.

Barcenas helped run finances for Rajoy’s People’s Party for many years until 2009.

He has described as fakes handwritten ledgers published last week by El Pais, which accused the PP of channelling payments through secret accounts from managers of building companies to its leaders, including Rajoy.

The premier has denied any wrongdoing. Investors sold some Spanish state bonds in recent days on concerns that the government’s efforts to stave off insolvency could be thrown off track by any scandal.

However, few analysts see the affair breaking Rajoy’s control of parliament or forcing an early election.

The prosecutor quizzing Barcenas could decide to pass his findings to the magistrate investigating what is known as the Gurtel case, in which Barcenas is charged with bribery, money laundering and tax evasion.

The prosecutor could also recommend a separate formal investigation or simply end his inquiry.

In the Gurtel inquiry, prosecutors said last month that Barcenas had a Swiss bank account containing up to €22m. He has said the funds were legitimate business income. He is due to appear in court on Feb 25 for a hearing on another Swiss bank account.

Small groups of protesters have taken to the streets to demand his resignation. However, the opposition Socialists face similar questions over party funding, blunting their ability to benefit from the PP’s troubles.

Chronic backlogs in the justice system may benefit Rajoy; it could take years before the courts decide whether there are criminal charges that could go to trial.

Some PP members have given credence to the latest allegations. A former lawmaker who had told El Pais of payments to the party leaders was also questioned.

Esperanza Aguirre, the PP leader in the Madrid region, seen as a potential challenger to Rajoy, called for reforms to speed up the judicial process.

— Reuters

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