POLITICAL CORRUPTION

Former PP treasurer “handed out envelopes with cash” to party officials

Deputy PM denies knowledge of any such payments

Scandal-hit Bárcenas retains office in Popular Party headquarters

Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría speaks to the press. / Ballesteros (EFE)

Despite strenuous efforts by the ruling Popular Party (PP) to distance itself from Luis Bárcenas, who is in trouble with the law over corruption allegations, the party’s former treasurer continues to maintain an office in the PP headquarters in Madrid even after having left the group, party sources said Friday.

Bárcenas is implicated in the Gürtel kickbacks-for-contracts scandal, which first broke in 2008. Under an ongoing investigation into the corruption ring, it emerged earlier this week that Bárcenas had a bank account in Switzerland in which he had deposited as much as 22 million euros. He also took advantage of a tax amnesty in place last year to declare 10 million euros, which had previously been kept hidden from the tax authorities.

The PP sources said that despite stepping down as a senator and leaving the party in April 2010, Bárcenas has continued to appear in its Madrid headquarters, seeking help from PP officials to find a solution to the legal quagmire in which he finds himself. He was last seen in the building – located in Génova Street in the center of Madrid – as recently as Wednesday of this week.

Bárcenas, who was treasurer of the PP for 20 years, faces possible charges of money-laundering and tax evasion.

The sources said he still has a secretary in the building, who is on the payroll of the PP, and who makes telephone calls in his name as if he were still in the employ of the party.

Bárcenas had previously threatened to let some of the party’s secrets out of the bag, and sources close to him have revealed that the former treasurer regularly handed out cash-filled envelopes to PP members over a number of years, using funds obtained from companies. A report by daily El Mundo published on Friday said that illegal payments of between 5,000 and 15,000 euros were given to party officials during the mandates as party leader of former Prime Minister José María Aznar and his successor Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

Bárcenas’ lawyer, Miguel Bajo, on Friday said the PP and the tax authorities should open an investigation into those accusations. Referring to the report, he said: “The only thing that is being said here is that someone handed out envelopes, money. As we don’t know where the money came from, that doesn’t meaning anything from a point of view of illegality.”

At a news conference after the regular Friday Cabinet meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría said it was up to the party itself to reply to allegations of alleged illegal payments.

However, she said that the government would be “surprised and indignant” if the accusations were true. “Personally, I never saw anyone handing out envelopes with money and never received any, which, it goes without saying, I would never have accepted.” She later added: If I had seen or heard [of such payments] I would not have kept quiet.”

Asked if the government’s tax amnesty had been designed with Bárcenas in mind, Sáenz de Santamaría answer was unequivocal: “Definitely not.”

Rajoy’s number two insisted on the honesty of the figures within the party. “We want this to be investigated and for the investigation to run its course,” she said. “Those of us who work with honor and honesty are the most interested in this being cleared up; as I say, we’re not all the same.”

Without directly mentioning Bárcenas, the secretary general of the PP and premier of the region of Castilla-La Mancha, María Dolores de Cospedal, on Friday launched a message against corruption while speaking at a party meeting in the southern city of Almeria.

“You are in a party that defends honor, and you are in a party where people pay for what they do,” she said. “Our party works to defend decency and works to defend the general interest.”

De Cospedal said she had no knowledge of any illegal payments being made to party members. “I am not aware of this having taken place in my time as secretary general. Definitely not,” she said in an interview with the Cope radio station. She later added: “Neither before that. It didn’t happen.”

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