Spanish corruption inquiry inches closer to Prime Minister Rajoy

A Spanish court is examining financial records that police say point to two decades of corruption at Spain's ruling Popular Party. The party says a ledger at the heart of the case is a fake.

Juan Medina/Reuters
Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy reacts during a session at the senate in Madrid, Tuesday.

The Spanish government and ruling Popular Party (PP)  are strenuously denying allegations that top leaders are involved in serious corruption, even after the country’s highest court took over an investigation into whether the ruling party took bribes from large companies. 

Prosecutors gave National Court Judge Pablo Ruz a 14-page secret ledger Thursday that police believe contains records kept by former PP Treasurer Luis Bárcenas – some of them bribes paid to the party going back nearly two decades. The country’s main daily, El País, published excerpts of the ledger on Jan. 31, citing an anonymous source, and since then, the national political dialogue has been riddled with conspiracy theories about blackmail and intimidation.

Judge Ruz will consider the ledger and determine whether the money that was paid to officials, up to and including Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, came from illegal payments in what was allegedly 20 years of party-sanctioned corruption. PP officials have insisted the ledger is a fake, suggesting it was fabricated to damage the government, and said cases of corruption over the years have been isolated and not coordinated by the party.

Today Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría refused to answer questions about Mr. Bárcenas or the ledger.

Ruz is already investigating Swiss bank accounts held by Bárcenas that contain about 38 million euros. Police believe at least part of the money is the proceeds from kickbacks.

The court heard Friday how Bárcenas ordered $4.5 million be transferred to US accounts, including $1 million to his predecessor as PP treasurer.

The ledger

Bárcenas's ledger apparently covers 7.5 million euros in donations over the years, mostly from builders, that were funneled to PP leaders. Mr. Rajoy is noted in the books as a recipient of 25,000 euros a year.

The Spanish public has been furious about the story. But whether the ledger legally proves a crime was committed is something else again.

Judge Ruz decided to open a parallel inquiry into the ledger after police concluded that some of its entries coincided with illegal party contributions exposed as part of a broader four-year corruption case that has already resulted in convictions of businessmen for bribing officials to win public contracts.

By linking both cases, the court could potentially ask officials to explain whether they received cash ultimately tied to bribes from businessmen.

The country’s Attorney General Eduardo Torres-Dulce supported the judge’s decision on Friday and said he had already handed all his findings over to the court. The PP is denying everything, and suing El País as well as the ledger's “author,” without directly naming Bárcenas.

The former treasurer, who originally denied the ledger was his, shielded the PP initially. But as the investigation deepened, Bárcenas severed ties to his party, accused them of stealing work computers, and is now suing them for wrongful termination, in what most Spaniards believe was the result of a failed blackmail attempt against the party, according to a published poll.

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