Faced with mounting calls for his resignation and threats of a motion of censure in parliament over accusations of corruption, Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has said he will not step down and vowed and he would not allow the affair to derail his efforts to lift the country from economic crisis.
“I am going to see out the mandate the Spanish electorate gave me,” he told reporters at a press conference with visiting Polish counterpart Donald Tusk yesterday. “This is a stable government that is going to fulfil its obligations.
“Let no-one think we are going to be distracted from getting Spain out of the crisis.”
The rare and brief appearance before the media will do little to ease the pressure on Mr Rajoy or dispel the widely-held belief that he and other senior figures in his right-wing Popular Party (PP) have been receiving illegal payments over almost 20 years. The PP currently governs Spain with an overall majority.
The story came to public attention in 2009 when an alleged slush fund, masterminded by businessman Francisco Correa, was investigated. The fund was allegedly used to buy political influence in the form of favours and cash payments to PP politicians and is calculated to have involved the misuse of €120 million (£104m) of public funds.
Links to Luis Bárcenas, party official over a period of 20 years, emerged quickly but the story really took off at the beginning of this year when El País newspaper reproduced his records detailing illegal cash payments to senior politicians, including €250,000 to Mr Rajoy. Under Spanish law, government ministers may not receive any other income apart from their salary.
Mr Rajoy is not charged with any crime and has denied that he or other party leaders received illegal payments. However, text messages between Mr Rajoy and Bárcenas published in El Mundo newspaper at the weekend showed the two were in touch as recently as March and that the prime minister tried to limit potential damage from the former party official, who he made treasurer in 2008. It is also alleged that the party’s secretary-general María Dolores de Cospedal, took receipt of a €200,000 kickback that was handed to her in a briefcase in a car park. Bárcenas claims the money was to sweeten a deal to win the rubbish collection contract in Toledo. De Cospedal has now been ordered to appear before a court to explain PP’s policy on donations.
Bárcenas is in prison on remand having been declared a flight risk after it was revealed that the former accountant has €47 million in Swiss bank accounts. He is angered that the party he served for more than 20 years has hung him out to dry and is now taking his revenge.
The PP’s reaction has wavered between indignation and panic. Mr Rajoy’s reluctance to offer a credible defence only serves to increase the public perception that he, and the entire political class, is rotten. Mr Rajoy may soon find that, with even the right-wing press abandoning him, keeping silent will not be enough to save his skin.