Rajoy admits he trusted ‘delinquent’ party official
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Under pressure to explain himself over a scandal involving alleged illegal payments to his ruling Popular Party, Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy told parliament on Thursday he had been wrong to trust his former treasurer, labeling him a “delinquent”.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told the Spanish parliament on Thursday he had “made a mistake” in trusting a senior party official and long-time friend at the centre of a major scandal over alleged illegal payments to members of his ruling Popular Party.
“I made the mistake of trusting a delinquent,” Rajoy, who has faced calls for his resignation over the affair, told lawmakers, but said he had not tried to protect the accused Luis Barcenas from justice.
The declaration was an abrupt about-face for Rajoy, who for weeks refused any fault in the affair, even refraining from pronouncing Barcenas' name publicly.
Barcenas, a former treasurer of Rajoy’s right-wing Popular Party, was jailed in June and charged with bribery, money laundering and holding secret Swiss bank accounts.
He has named Rajoy as one of the senior party officials who received illegal payments as part of questionable accounting practices.
The money purportedly came from a fund created with donations from businessmen given to the party in return for public contracts.
But the PM has denied receiving irregular funds, and on Thursday repeated to parliament previous declarations that he would stay in power.
“Nothing related to this matter has prevented me, nor will it prevent me from governing,” Rajoy said, also accusing the opposition Socialist Party of trying to exploit the situation for political benefit.
Rajoy also admitted that the scandal involving top party members had hurt Spain’s image abroad.
In response to Rajoy’s intervention in the special parliamentary session, Socialist Party chief Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said the prime minister could no longer be trusted and should resign.
“It is your credibility that is in doubt,” Rubalcaba said, pointing an accusatory finger at the seats occupied by MPs of the Popular Party. “From the beginning [of this affair] all you have done is tell lies.”
“Mr. Rajoy… you are hurting Spain. I ask that you step down.”
The so-called Barcenas affair has angered ordinary Spaniards who have faced massive layoffs and cutbacks on social services in the past few years.
Spain has struggled to return to economic growth, although it has recently seen some positive signs, following a Europe-wide trend.
Rajoy also used his speech to highlight Spain’s declining unemployment figures and the rising quantity of exports.
“We can’t consider this a success, but we can feel that Spain’s economic winds are changing,” he said.