MADRID – The convicted mastermind behind a sprawling web of corruption that involved politicians and businessmen alike said on Tuesday that the current prime minister of Spain personally approved his party’s electoral campaign expenses that were paid for with illicit kickbacks obtained in exchange for rigging public contracts.
During a testimony before a parliamentary committee in Spain investigating the alleged slush fund of the ruling right-wing Popular Party, Francisco Correa Sanchez – a businessman who was arrested in 2009 accused of money laundering, bribery, influence peddling and tax evasion, among other charges – said that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy “okayed” all expenses while he was the party’s secretary-general.
When asked by the committee if Rajoy was responsible for approving the payments, Correa answered: “I believe so.”
Correa testified before the lower chamber committee via teleconference, as he remained incarcerated after receiving a 13-year prison sentence last year when a regional court in Valencia found him guilty of setting up and leading a complex web of tax fraud schemes that eluded all fiscal control, as well as bribing politicians to obtain taxpayer-funded contracts.
The corruption scandal, the biggest in Spanish history, is popularly known as the “Gürtel Case,” derived from the code name used during the police investigation.
The word “Gürtel” in German is a rough translation of the Spanish “Correa,” which means “belt.”
Rajoy himself had testified in July as a witness at the country’s national court in the still-ongoing trial over his party’s funding and denied any wrongdoing.
He claimed he had never received any secret bonuses nor had any knowledge of the slush fund used to allegedly finance the PP’s electoral campaigns, as well as to pay cash-in-hand bonuses and bribes and to renovate the party’s Madrid headquarters.
“They’re absolutely fake,” Rajoy told the magistrates when asked about documents on which the initials “MR” appeared next to figures that allegedly constituted under-the-table bonuses.
The documents – known as the “Barcenas Papers” after the PP’s indicted ex-treasurer, Luis Barcenas – were published by daily El Pais in January 2013 and showed handwritten ledgers detailing the alleged payment of unaccounted-for bonuses in cash ranging from 5,000-15,000 euros ($6,170-18,509) per month to high-ranking PP officials and businessmen between 1990-2009.
On at least one of the pages, the words “M. Rajoy” were scribbled next to a significant amount in pesetas – Spain’s pre-euro currency – likely representing an unlawful premium paid out in the second semester of 1999.
Rajoy denied being the “Rajoy” in question.
When queried about cash handed over to the PP’s treasury for its illegal funding, Rajoy said he had no knowledge of the matter.
“I’ve never heard anything about that,” Rajoy said, adding that he had never been in charge of his party’s finances.
“My responsibilities were political, not accounting-related,” Rajoy claimed.
Correa’s testimony directly contradicts Rajoy’s denial, as does the account of events provided by Barcenas.
The former PP treasurer gave an exclusive interview to El Mundo newspaper while in prison in which he said that everything in the papers was true and that the PP had been illegally funding itself for 20 years.
He added that the party had been receiving opaque money from businessmen and he, as party treasurer, would later redistribute the cash among top party members and covertly pay for cost over-runs in electoral campaigns.
The Gürtel case resulted in an estimated loss to the public purse of at least 120 million euros.