Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is to be called to testify as a witness in a major corruption trial. It will be the first time that a Spanish prime minister has been summoned to appear in court.
A spokesperson for the Audiencia Nacional (the Spanish High Court) said that no date had been set yet for the hearing. Rajoy has been called as part of the "caso Gürtel" trial, which centres on a vast network of alleged corrupt activities involving former members of Rajoy’s Partido Popular.
While Spain’s 62-year-old leader is not accused of anything, his post as party chief since 2004 means he could provide valuable testimony.
The network allegedly saw companies shower former PP lawmakers and civil servants with bribes in exchange for contracts. Altogether, 37 defendants face justice including two former party treasurers and businessman Francisco Correa, the alleged head of the network. (The name of the case, Gürtel, is German for belt; correa is Spanish for belt).
According to a confession published by Correa, companies would give him a commission of two to three per cent on the value of public contracts. After taking his share, he would then give politicians involved in awarding contracts some of the money too.
He also claimed that he gave money to Luis Barcenas, who is also on trial and who was party manager from the 1980s to 2008 and then treasurer for a year.
Further complicating matters, Barcenas claimed in 2013 that part of that money went into a secret party slush fund. The fund is an ingredient of the current case but not the focus, as a separate trial on it is pending.
Barcenas was nevertheless questioned on the subject in January, and acknowledged there existed secret accounts in the PP, pointing to "financial resources that did not appear in official book-keeping". But he said that rather than bribes, businessmen gave donations "generously" without expecting anything in return.
"I never received anything from Correa, not for me nor for the PP," he added, blasting the businessman’s allegations as "nonsense".
When questioned by a judge in 2013, Barcenas claimed he had given Rajoy envelopes of cash. But in his January hearing, he defended Rajoy, saying he had given orders not to use Correa’s companies any more in 2003, "because he was told that Correa was engaged in illegal activities".
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