June 22, 2016 / 4:34 PM / 3 years ago

Spanish minister linked to alleged smear campaign before election

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain’s interior minister is facing calls to resign after leaked recordings linked him to an alleged smear campaign against political rivals in Catalonia, just four days before voters go to the polls for a repeat national election.

Spain's Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz adjusts his collar while testifying at the interior commission in Parliament in Madrid, Spain, August 14, 2015. REUTERS/Sergio Perez/File Photo

Online news outlet Publico on Tuesday published taped conversations between Jorge Fernandez Diaz and the head of Catalonia’s anti-fraud office which appear to show him asking for information to discredit the region’s largest pro-independence parties.

Diaz confirmed at a news conference on Wednesday that he had met twice in his office with the official, Daniel de Alfonso, but said the recordings were biased and lacked context. He ruled out resigning and called himself a “victim”.

Publico made some of the recordings available on its website and said they were taped in 2014 when Catalonia held a referendum on independence from Spain.

Alfonso told Spanish radio stations on Wednesday that Diaz had “suggested” during their meetings that he make public an investigation into alleged illegal party financing, though without giving him any specific orders.

The leaders of Spain’s three other main parties lined up to demand he step down, saying it was more evidence of misconduct within the ruling People’s Party (PP) after a series of corruption scandals involving much of its top brass.

“The PP exploits institutions. On June 26 we will make them resign in the election,” the leader of the Socialist party, Pedro Sanchez, said on his Twitter account.

Polls see the conservative PP winning Sunday’s vote, which was called after parties failed to form a coalition government following an election in December, with the Unidos Podemos alliance in second place, then the Socialists and Ciudadanos.

Diaz said he wanted an investigation into how Publico had obtained the recordings. “When a conversation is leaked two years after, there is a purpose. What they want is to politically destroy the adversary,” he said.

He said acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had asked him for an explanation. Rajoy later declined to comment on the allegations, saying he did not yet know the content of the conversations.

The leaders of the Catalan parties in question, Convergencia and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, also called for Diaz, who is from Catalonia and opposes its independence, to resign.

The PP has faced a slew of investigations over allegations of misappropriating public funds and influence peddling, which have seen several of its politicians resign. The PP has denied it has a problem with corruption, saying the cases are isolated and it is tackling them.

In April, acting Industry Minister Jose Manuel Soria resigned over alleged links to offshore dealings that emerged when he was named in the leaked Panama Papers, which revealed details of thousands of shell firms. He denied any wrongdoing.

Editing by Julien Toyer and Catherine Evans

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