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Spain's new culture minister quits over tax fraud

© AFP | Spanish minister of culture and sports Maxim Huerta resigned a week after the new government took over when it emerged he was fined for tax evasion

MADRID (AFP) - 

Spain's culture and sports minister Maxim Huerta resigned Wednesday after it emerged he has been fined for tax fraud, in a blow to the Socialist government that took over only last week.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez ousted conservative Mariano Rajoy with a June 1 no-confidence vote in parliament sparked by corruption convictions against former senior officials of his Popular Party (PP).

Sanchez won praise worldwide for appointing a cabinet made up mostly of women as well as for offering to take in a ship with 629 migrants aboard when Italy's populist government and Malta refused them safe port.

However, Huerta, an award-winning author and television celebrity, evaded 218,322 euros ($256,462) in tax between 2006-2008 by using a shell company, online daily El Confidencial reported Wednesday.

A court last year ordered that he pay over 360,000 euros to the tax office -- the amount he tried to evade plus fines and interest payments, it said.

"I am stepping down," Huerta told a news conference a week after he was sworn in on June 7, adding that the fine stemmed from a change in criteria used by the tax authority.

According to Spanish media, Huerta's term in office is the shortest of any minister in Spain's modern history.

"I have paid this fine twice," he said.

"The first time to the tax office...and I am paying it for the second time here, conscious that innocence is not worth anything before this pack of hounds," Huerta added in a reference to a firestorm sparked by the fraud report.

- No tolerance -

The leader of anti-establishment party Podemos, which backed the Socialist party's no-confidence vote in parliament, had called for Huerta's resignation.

"We will not back behaviours which remind us of the PP," Pablo Iglesias told journalists earlier Wednesday.

"If Maxim Huerta tried to defraud the tax office, he should resign immediately, and if not, Pedro Sanchez should dismiss him."

In a Twitter message after the resignation, Iglesias said the prime minister had initially backed Huerta but "Spain is no longer what it was".

"As we said this morning, citizens no longer tolerate these things. I commend the government for hearing and rectifying," he added.

The PP also demanded Huerta's resignation while centrist party Ciudadanos called on him to explain himself to lawmakers.

- 'Hated' sports -

During a TV interview in 2015, Sanchez, who was then head of the opposition Socialists, said that if he learned that a top party official used a company to pay less taxes, he would fire them.

Huerta had already sparked controversy when he was appointed a minister after media uncovered a Twitter message from 2010 where he said he "hated" sports.

He adjusted his views after taking the oath of office, saying, "I am not athletic, I say this because of everything that has emerged.

"I don't like to practise sports, but I love sports.

"That doesn't mean anything. I will support and love sports and support all athletes because they are heroes and heroines," he added.

Huerta was one of just six men in Sanchez's government, among 11 women, the most of any administration in modern Spanish history.

He is well known in Spain having spent years as a presenter on popular morning television show "El Programa de Ana Rosa", which mixes celebrity gossip with politics and social issues.

© 2018 AFP