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Spain’s interior minister faces calls to resign over leak

Spain's interior minister faced calls to resign Wednesday over a conversation leaked four days before elections in which he and an anti-fraud official appear to discuss ways to incriminate his political rivals.

Spain's interior minister faces calls to resign over leak
The recordings appear to show Fernández Diáz conspiring to incriminate political rivals. Photo: AFP

In the conversation published by online left-wing daily Publico, Jorge Fernández Diáz and the head of Catalonia's anti-fraud office go through potential leads or probes that could be launched against pro independence politicians of this northeastern region, or their relatives.

With general elections looming on Sunday, the allegations unleashed a storm. Several rivals of Fernández Diáz's conservative Popular Party (PP) demanded he quit.

“We have an interior minister, who should be protecting us all, apparently using his post to investigate political rivals,” Pablo Iglesias, head of the anti-austerity Podemos party, told TVE television.

“I think this should trigger an immediate resignation.”

Fernández Diáz immediately slammed the leak as a “conspiracy.”

But he acknowledged that the meeting, which dates back to 2014, had taken place.

“I remember having had this meeting, but as for the content of these conversations, I remember the general gist, which was to meet a magistrate that heads up the anti-fraud office of the regional government, whose mission is to fight fraud and corruption,” he told Spanish radio.

“To claim that an interior minister is conspiring against members of Catalonia's government is surreal,” he said, adding police had been tasked to investigate exactly how the conversation was recorded and leaked.

Madrid and Catalonia's separatist politicians have long been at odds over a pro-independence drive in the wealthy Spanish region.  

During the conversation, Daniel de Alfonso, the anti-fraud official, allegedly lays out several leads for possible offences committed by various pro-independence politicians or their relatives, but adds they are all “weak.”  

But Fernández Diáz allegedly insists that some can still inflict “a lot of harm politically”.  The revelations come just before Sunday's elections, in which the PP is expected to come first, though without the absolute majority it needs – weakened by the rise of upstart parties like Podemos and several corruption scandals.

Pedro Sanchez, head of the Socialist party, also called on Fernandez Diaz to resign, accusing him of “using the state apparatus to fight against his political rivals and not to fight against corruption within his own party”.

But acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy came to his defence, saying he had given a “clear” explanation.

“As we're four days before the end of the campaign, someone is trying to take advantage and fish in troubled waters to see what comes out,” he said.   

The elections are the second in six months, after polls in December resulted in a hung parliament after which parties failed to agree on a coalition government, forcing fresh elections.

 

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POLITICS

Spain’s Sánchez in Morocco to mend fences after crisis

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez was in Rabat on Thursday to reset a "strategic partnership" despite criticism from within his left-wing government that it has caved into Moroccan pressure.

Spain's Sánchez in Morocco to mend fences after crisis

Sánchez and a dozen ministers are set to meet Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch for the first “high-level meeting” of its kind since 2015.

“Today we are consolidating a new stage in relations between Morocco and Spain,” Sánchez told journalists in Rabat, saying there was “enormous unexplored potential” between them.

His visit comes less than a year after he drew a line under a year-long diplomatic crisis by reversing decades of neutrality in the Western Sahara conflict to back Morocco’s position.

But Sánchez has faced criticism from both the left and right for the concession to Morocco, including from his administration’s number three, Labour Minister Yolanda Díaz of the hard-left Podemos party.

She has declined to join this week’s trip, in line with her party’s rejection of Sánchez’s “unilateral” U-turn on Western Sahara.

Spain’s right-wing opposition has also slammed Sánchez over the policy, with González Pons, a member of the European Parliament from the Popular Party, saying there was “no greater humiliation than bowing to the will of Morocco”.

Sánchez has defended his move as essential for Spanish interests.

On Thursday he called for new Spanish investments in Morocco, where his country is already the third-biggest foreign investor.

Investment deals

Around 20 deals were signed on Thursday to boost Spanish investments in everything from renewable energy to education, as well as doubling Spanish state support for firms setting up projects there.

Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch said the two countries “want to establish a new economic partnership in the service of development”.

The crisis between Rabat and Madrid had begun in 2021 when Brahim Ghali, leader of the Polisario Front which seeks independence for Western Sahara, was treated for Covid-19 in a Spanish hospital.

Weeks later, more than 10,000 migrants surged into Spain’s tiny Ceuta enclave as Moroccan border forces looked the other way, an incident seen as a Moroccan move to punish Madrid.

In March last year, Madrid announced a “new stage” in relations and said it backed the North African kingdom’s plan for the Western Sahara of limited autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.

The following month, Sánchez paid a high-profile visit to Morocco and was hosted by King Mohammed VI.

The Spanish premier came under renewed fire this week for holding a high-level visit to Morocco without being hosted by the monarch.

Conservative newspaper El Mundo said the king “had shown his position of strength by standing Sánchez up”.

However, King Mohammed did this week invite the Spanish premier for a higher-profile state visit in the near future to “reinforce the positive dynamic” in their ties, according to a palace statement.

‘Honeymoon’

Cooperation over clandestine migration and terrorism is also high on the agenda during Sánchez’s visit.

After resuming cooperation with the kingdom, Spain said arrivals of irregular migrants on its territory from Morocco were down by a quarter last year compared with 2021.

Both countries faced criticism from human rights groups after at least 23 migrants died during a mass attempt to enter the Melilla enclave in June 2022.

Spain’s Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska is set to ask his Moroccan counterpart Abdelouafi Laftit to return deportations of irregular migrants to pre-Covid levels, according to a ministry official.

The visit comes as the European Parliament lifts the immunity of two lawmakers targeted in a Belgian probe into suspected bribery linked to Morocco as well as Qatar.

Morocco has staunchly denied any wrongdoing, but the investigation by Belgian police has sparked tensions between key European states and the North African kingdom.

Moroccan politicians and media have accused France, a staunch ally of the kingdom, of “orchestrating” a European Parliament resolution critical of Morocco’s treatment of the press.

“There’s a honeymoon between Rabat and Madrid, and a cold crisis” between Rabat and Paris, French-Moroccan journalist Mustapha Tossa wrote on news website Atlasinfo.

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