Barcenas slush fund trial puts spotlight on Spain’s rightwing Popular Party

The trial of a key figure in an illegal funding scandal involving Spain's rightwing Popular Party opened Monday with the defendant pledging a full confession directly implicating the former premier.

Barcenas slush fund trial puts spotlight on Spain's rightwing Popular Party
Spain's former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (left) and Former PP treasurer Luis Barcenas. File photos from 2013: AFP

The case centres on a system of parallel bookkeeping used by the PP to manage undeclared funds that was run by Luis Barcenas, the main suspect, who served as the party treasurer between 1990 and 2009.

Two former PP prime ministers will testify at the high-profile trial which opened on Monday morning at the National Court in Madrid and will run until May.

One is Mariano Rajoy, who served as premier between 2011-2018 and has always denied any knowledge of the system, although Barcenas has testified he was “perfectly aware” of it.

José María Aznar, who was Spain's prime minister between 1996-2004, will also testify alongside various other former top party officials.    

Just days before the trial opened, Barcenas sent a letter to the prosecutors professing his “willingness to collaborate with the justice system” in a dramatic U-turn that has added further drama to a case that has gripped the nation.

In the letter, he said “Mariano Rajoy was perfectly aware of all these activities to the point that in 2009 we had a meeting in his office in which I showed him the slush fund accounting papers”.   

Barcenas in the dock as trail opens on Monday February 8th. Photo: AFP

Rajoy, who at the time was leader of the opposition, then destroyed them “in a paper shredder without knowing I'd kept a copy”, Barcenas wrote.    

The alleged slush fund, which was fed by corporate cash donations, operated between 1990 to 2008 and was used to pay bonuses to party leaders, including Rajoy, as well as for the renovation of the party's Madrid headquarters,
Barcenas has said.

Deal breaker   

Details of the accounts emerged in the so-called “Barcenas papers” which were first published by El Pais newspaper in 2013.   

In his letter, which was published on Thursday, Barcenas said he was now willing to talk after the PP failed to honour a deal in which he would keep silent as long as they ensured his wife did not go to jail.

Barcenas himself is serving a 29-year sentence over the so-called Gürtel case which centred on a vast system of bribes given to former PP officials in exchange for juicy public contracts between 1999 and 2005.

His wife was also convicted for her role in the case and began serving a 12-year sentence in December.

The trial comes at a difficult time for the main opposition Popular Party which is currently campaigning ahead of Sunday's regional election in Catalonia as polls suggest the faction is facing a dismal result.   

Earlier on Monday, PP leader Pablo Casado – who took over in 2018 after Rajoy was forced out as premier and party head – said he could not take responsibility for events that happened before his tenure.

That PP “no longer exists” he told Onda Cero radio.

By AFP's Diego Urdaneta


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What the PP’s landslide win in Andalusia means for Spain’s ruling Socialists

A resounding win by Spain's conservative Popular Party in a weekend regional election in Andalusia appears to have boosted its chances in national elections next year and weakened Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

What the PP's landslide win in Andalusia means for Spain's ruling Socialists

The Popular Party (PP) secured 58 seats in Sunday’s election in Spain’s most populous region — three more than the 55 needed for an absolute majority. That constitutes its best-ever result in the longstanding Socialist stronghold.

The Socialists won 30 seats, their worst-ever result in Andalusia. It governed there without interruption between 1982 and 2018, when it was ousted from power by a coalition between the PP and centre-right Ciudadanos.

This was the Socialists’ third consecutive regional election loss to the PP after votes in Madrid in May 2021 and Castilla y Leon in February.

Sanchez’s government has been struggling to deal with the economic fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has fuelled inflation worldwide, especially through increasing energy prices.

Socialist party officials argued the results of a regional election “can’t be extrapolated” nationally.

But in an editorial, centre-left daily El Pais said no one can deny the gulf in the election scores obtained between the two parties in two of Spain’s most populated regions — Andalusia and Madrid.

This was “more than just a stumble”, it argued.

“This may be a symptom of a change in the political cycle” at the national level, it added. The conservative daily ABC took a similar line.

‘Worn down’

Pablo Simon, political science professor at the Carlos III University, said this “new cycle” in which “the right is stronger” began when the PP won a landslide in a regional election in Madrid in May 2021.

It could culminate with the PP coming out on top in the next national election expected at the end of 2023, he added.

But Cristina Monge, a political scientist at the University of Zaragoza, took a more cautious line.

“The government is worn down after four difficult years due to the pandemic” and the war in Ukraine, which has fuelled inflation, she said.

She refused to “draw a parallel” between Andalusia and Spain, arguing “there is still a lot of time” before the next national election.

Sanchez come to power in June 2018 after former PP prime minister Mariano Rajoy was voted out of office in a no-confidence motion triggered by a long-running corruption scandal.

The PP then suffered its worst-ever results in the next general election in 2019, which the Socialists won.

Sunday’s election was the first since veteran politician Alberto Núñez Feijóo, a moderate, took over as leader of the PP from Pablo Casado following a period of internal party turbulence.

Partido Popular (PP) candidate for the Andalusian regional election Juanma Moreno greets supporters during a meeting following the Andalusian regional elections, in Seville on June 19, 2022. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

‘Packing his bags’

“People are fed up with Sanchez,” the PP’s popular regional leader of Madrid, Isabel Diaz Ayuso, said Monday.

“If national elections had been held yesterday, the result would have been the same and today he would be packing his bags,” she added.

Up until now, the far-right Vox party had supported the PP in Andalusia but from outside government.

This time around however, it had said its support would be conditional on getting a share of the government of the southern region.

But the PP’s commanding victory in Andalusia means that is now moot: it no longer has to rely on far-right party Vox to govern.

At the national level, it could be a different story however, said Pablo Simon.

A PP government nationally that did not rely on Vox would be “impossible” due to the fragmentation of parliament, which has several regional and separatist parties.