MADRID Jan 31 Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and
Spain's ruling People's Party denied on Thursday that the party
made payments from business donors to the premier and other
party leaders after a newspaper published what it said were
secret party accounts.
El Pais published images of excerpts of almost two decades
of handwritten accounts that it said were maintained by People's
Party treasurers, showing donations from companies, mostly
builders, and regular payments of thousands of euros to Rajoy
and other party leaders.
"The People's Party has no knowledge of the handwritten
notes that were published and of their content, and it cannot be
recognised, in any case, as this political party's books," the
PP said in a statement.
The statement said that the party's payments to leaders and
staff were always legal and followed tax rules.
A spokeswoman from Rajoy's office told Reuters the prime
minister stood by comments he has made recently that he has not
engaged in improper conduct. Last week he said the party would
ask for an external audit to look over accounts.
The widening corruption scandal over alleged secret cash
payments to PP leaders has hit Rajoy's popularity as he
struggles with a deep recession, a fiscal crisis that could push
Spain into an international bailout, and the euro zone's highest
El Pais said the donations and payments represented a secret
accounting system by the conservative party, but the alleged
slush fund may not necessarily be illegal.
Until recently, Spanish political parties were allowed to
receive anonymous donations. And if the party leaders declared
the income in tax statements, it may not be illegal.
However, the allegations raise serious ethical questions
about party operations, especially because many of them occurred
during Spain's building boom, in which politicians granted large
numbers of development contracts.
The accounts published in El Pais were allegedly from two
former PP treasurers. One of them is Luis Barcenas, who stepped
down as party treasurer in 2009 when judges began to investigate
his possible involvement in alleged illegal payments and
kickbacks to party officials from builders and other businesses
that won government contracts.
The ongoing judicial investigation of Barcenas has revealed
recently that he had a Swiss bank account which at one point
held as much as 22 million euros.
Press officials from Spain's High Court confirmed that
Barcenas' lawyer has provided to the court a document showing
that in 2012 his company applied for a tax amnesty on funds in
the Swiss bank account.
Barcenas' lawyer was not immediately available for comment
(Reporting by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Tracy Rucinski and Giles