Spanish parliament backs anti-graft laws

Ana Mato: Resigned under pressure of graft inquiry. Picture: Getty

Ana Mato: Resigned under pressure of graft inquiry. Picture: Getty

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Spain’s parliament approved two long-delayed anti-graft laws yesterday – the day after a minister became the first government casualty in a series of alleged corruption cases.

Prime minister Mariano Rajoy urged Spaniards to have faith in their politicians, as he tried to limit damage to his conservative People’s Party (PP) ahead of parliamentary elections next year.

“I can understand the irritation and distrust of our citizens but suspicion should not be levelled at everyone,” he told the Madrid parliament. “Most politicians are decent people. Spain is not corrupt.”

Health minister Ana Mato resigned on Wednesday after an investigating judge accused her of benefiting from a kickback scheme. She protested her innocence noting she had not been charged with any crime.

Support is ebbing away from both the PP and the main opposition Socialists, while newcomer Podemos soars in polls on an anti-corruption platform.

Mato’s resignation saved Mr Rajoy the embarrassment of having to present the two laws while she was still in his ­government.

Neither law is new. They had been stalled in parliament for months as the PP sought consensus with other parties and to incorporate amendments before they went to a vote.

But the government used its majority in the lower house to push them through yesterday without amendment. The draft laws must now be approved by the upper house, where Mr Rajoy also has a majority.

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One of the laws covers party financing and the other aims to improve transparency and prevention of conflict of interests in government roles. Other parties had held back on co-operating. They believe the ruling party lacks legitimacy to fight corruption as an investigation known as the Gurtel case could result in three former PP treasurers and other members facing trial.

“This case is like a set of Russian dolls. There is always another revelation,” said Joan Queralt, law professor at the University of Barcelona. Mr Rajoy had no choice but to make Mato resign as she had become a liability, he added. Mato faces questions from the judge on whether she knew of the provenance of gifts to her family such as hotel stays, flights and luxury goods alleged to have been given to her ex-husband, a former PP mayor, in return for public works contracts. He has been charged with taking bribes.

Opposition Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez said the PP had been irrevocably tarnished. “You are in no position to regenerate Spain against corruption,” he told Mr Rajoy in parliament. “You are not able to lead legitimately.”

Podemos, meanwhile, has drawn voters disillusioned with the main parties.

With Spaniards also weary after years of economic crisis, Podemos – which means “We can” – would come a close third in a parliamentary election, a poll this month indicated.

“For the PP, it’s true a very small portion of their voters are going to Podemos but what most matters for them is abstention,” said analyst Antonio Barroso of Teneo Intelligence. “With every single PP corruption case, it’s going to be harder for Rajoy to lure them back.”

The law on party financing will ban legal and corporate entities from making donations to parties, and banks will no longer be allowed to cancel their debts or negotiate interest rates below market levels.

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