Spain's Socialists file no-confidence motion against Rajoy over graft

Madrid (AFP) –


'Spain?s biggest opposition party, the Socialists, filed a no-confidence motion on Friday against Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy after his conservative Popular Party was found guilty of benefiting from illegal funds in a mega graft trial.

The motion was filed in Spain's 350-seat lower house of parliament, a Socialist party spokesman told AFP just as Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez began an emergency meeting of the party's federal committee to discuss the parliamentary vote seeking Rajoy's ouster.

To succeed, it will need the support of an absolute majority of 176 lawmakers, a difficult task as opposition parties are deeply divided.

While far-left party Podemos has already called for a no-confidence vote, the motion will need the unlikely support of centrist party Ciudadanos, Rajoy's allies in parliament, or that of several tiny regional parties, including Catalan separatist parties.

Sanchez has in recent months clashed with the Catalan separatist parties over their independence push which has violated Spain's constitution.

In Spain's deeply fragmented parliament, the Socialists and Podemos do not have the votes on their own to defeat Rajoy, whose Popular Party (PP) lost its absolute majority in parlaiment over two years ago.

Spain's National Court said Thursday it had uncovered a vast system of bribes given to former Popular Party (PP) officials in exchange for lucrative public contracts between 1999 and 2005 in various regions including Madrid.

The court sentenced 29 people in jail for a total of 351 years for corruption, embezzlement and money laundering in the so-called Gurtel trial, named after the code name of the police investigation.

The PP itself was not on trial for direct involvement in the scheme but was found to have benefited from funds obtained illegally.

It is the first time that a ruling party in Spain has been found guilty in court, and the PP was ordered to pay back 245,000 euros ($290,000).

"Devastating sentence," headlined Catalan daily newspaper El Periodico on Friday while top-selling daily El Pais said in an editorial that "there is no precedent in democratic Spain for such a blow".

The court ruling "badly affects the credibility of a party that has ruled this country between 1996 and 2004 and again from 2011."

The case was just one of many graft scandals to have hit the PP over the years, in a country where corruption cases are widespread.

The graft scandals have taken their toll on the PP.

The party has 24 percent support according to a poll by Sociological Research Center (CIS) published earlier this month, down from 33 percent at the last genral election in June 2016, giving it just a slim lead over Ciudadanos in first place.