MADRID – Former conservative prime minister Jose Maria Aznar denied on Tuesday knowing anything about a secret slush fund and illegal payments in cash within his Popular Party while he was leader between 1990-2004.
Aznar appeared to answer questions before a parliamentary committee made up of lawmakers that is investigating the financing of the PP.
“The PP is not and never has been a corrupt party,” Aznar told the committee, denying any involvement in unlawful financing or payments. “I am proud of our track record,” he added.
A long-running investigation had found evidence that un-declared unlawful funds were used by the party “to pay for election and other similar Popular Party expenses, and were used to make slush-fund payments to party leaders.”
During a session that was punctuated by some very tense exchanges, Aznar emphatically denied that there had been a slush fund or that he had ordered illegal payments to party leaders.
Aznar did acknowledge there had been many people in his party who had committed illegal acts, but he insisted that did not mean the PP was a criminal organization, as some claimed.
Luis Barcenas, an ex-treasurer of the party, was in May sentenced to 33 years in prison for corrupt financial dealings linked to the party.
Investigators had found overseas accounts containing millions of dollars in his and his wife’s names.
“There is not only evidence, but criminal sentences,” Socialist lawmaker Rafael Simancas told Aznar.
Much to the astonishment of many in the committee, Aznar denied having any relationship with businessman Francisco Correa, who many to have been at the center of the corrupt financial dealings at the party.
Correa was sentenced to 51 years in jail for receiving corrupt payments in exchange for contracts handed out by the PP and local governments ruled by the PP.
“I did not know Mr. Correa nor did I hire him,” Aznar said.
However, there was photographic and video evidence that a suitably attired Correa had attended the high-profile wedding of Aznar’s daughter.
Catalan separatist lawmaker Gabriel Rufian compared Aznar to Vito Corleone, the Mafia boss character in “The Godfather” film by Francis Ford Coppola.