Rajoy denies slush fund in testimony

SAN FERNANDO DE HENARES: Mariano Rajoy on Wednesday denied any knowledge of an illegal financing scheme within his conservative People’s Party (PP) as he became the first sitting prime minister in Spain to give evidence in a trial, prompting calls for his resigination.
Rajoy’s appearance at the corruption trial as a witness turns the spotlight back on the long-running graft scandals that have tainted his party at a delicate time as he no longer enjoys a majority in parliament. He is not accused of wrongdoing.
Allegations of a PP slush fund have plagued the party for years and have resurfaced as part of the sprawling trial, which was originally centred on illegal dealings between small city councils and a network of businesses.
Asked if he knew whether the PP operated an illegal financing scheme for election campaigns and had received cash donations from anonymous donors, Rajoy told the court: “Never.”
The prime minister also denied ever taking illicit payments, saying any allegations to that effect were “absolutely false”.
“I never heard anything because, as I have stated, I was never in charge of financial matters within the party,” a combative Rajoy said.
He testified sat at an elevated table alongside a panel at the front of the court, as opposed to where witnesses usually sit, facing the magistrates, prompting a complaint from one of the lawyers over what he called an “unnecessary privilege”.
The spectacle of Rajoy facing prosecutors’ questioning prompted indignation from opposition parties, with the leader of the Socialists calling for the prime minister’s immediate resignation.
“There’s only one path: resign,” leader of the Socialists Pedro Sanchez said at a news conference after Rajoy left court.
The anti-austerity Podemos (“We Can”) leader Pablo Iglesias echoed the sentiment, calling Rajoy’s testimony “shameful”.
Opposition parties have repeatedly called for Rajoy to step down, but both the Socialists and Podemos have previously failed in their bids to oust him while working within a fractured parliament.
Dozens of demonstrators had gathered to protest against Rajoy and decry political corruption near the court room in San Fernando de Henares, on the outskirts of Madrid. They were being kept behind a large security cordon and away from journalists.
Rajoy had sought to testify by video link, arguing that the journey to court and the security costs would be a waste of taxpayer money, but the court denied his request.
The trial follows a long graft investigation known in Spanish as the “Gurtel” case, after the nickname of one of the supposed masterminds of a kickback scheme and businessman Francisco Correa. — Reuters