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Spanish minister under fire over meeting with graft-tainted police chief

© AFP/File | Delgado said the recordings had been 'manipulated'

MADRID (AFP) - 

Spain's justice minister faced calls to resign on Tuesday after audio recordings emerged of her having lunch nearly a decade ago with a retired police chief under investigation for money laundering.

In a secret recording released by online news site moncloa.com, Justice Minister Dolores Delgado can be heard talking over lunch in 2009 with retired police chief Jose Villarejo, who has been in jail since November 2017 awaiting trial.

In the recordings she also appears to call openly gay Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska a "faggot".

Delgado was working in the prosecutor's office in 2009.

During a heated exchange in the Senate, Delgado said the audio recordings had been "manipulated", adding she had meet with Villarejo only three times during her previous 30-year career as a public prosecutor.

"I am sorry if I appear angry. But I am. Because I am not going to allow anyone to question my principles and my honesty," she added.

Pablo Iglesias, the leader of far-left party Podemos which helps prop up Delgado's minority Socialist government, demanded she resign for having met with the graft-tainted former policeman, saying "it is not acceptable that there are ministers who are friends with people like Villarejo".

"Anyone who meets in a friendly way with a character of the gutter, of garbage...should stay away from political life," he added.

Villarejo made headlines in July after he was heard in another recording talking to Spain's former king Juan Carlos's alleged former mistress, German aristocrat Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein.

In the recording Sayn-Wittgenstein alleges Juan Carlos used her name to hide property he had in Morocco, and claims he also pocketed money from a high-speed train contract with Saudi Arabia.

Government spokeswoman Isabel Celaa said the government had "full confidence" in Delgado and Grande-Marlaska said he was "not offended" by the recording.

Socialist Prime Minster Pedro Sanchez took over on June 2 after toppling his conservative predecessor amid a graft scandal.

But his Socialist party has only 84 seats in Spain's 350-seat parliament, the smallest amount for a government since the country returned to democracy following dictator Francisco Franco's death in 1975, and two of his ministers have already resigned.

Health Minister Carmen Monton resigned earlier this month after reports of alleged irregularities in her educational qualifications, while Culture Minister Maxim Huerta resigned over reports of an unpaid tax fine shortly after taking office.

The Socialists would win 30.5 percent of the vote if an election was held today, a poll showed on Tuesday, up from a previous survey held in August which predicted the party would win 29.9 percent.

© 2018 AFP