Valencia's embattled premier Francisco Camps resigned as regional chief on Wednesday after coming under pressure from his own Popular Party (PP) to plead guilty to charges that he accepted expensive suits as bribes from a group of corrupt businessmen.
"I voluntarily offer my sacrifice so that Mariano Rajoy can become the next prime minister," Camps told a news conference, in reference to the PP leader.
Saying that he is the victim of a "personal campaign" that had been waged against him, Camps told reporters: "I am leaving with less than I came with."
The surprise resignation came one day after Rajoy and other PP officials were said to be negotiating with the 48-year-old premier to plead guilty before the Valencia High Court and avoid trial on charges that he accepted dress suits and other accessories worth around 14,000 euros from businessmen from the so-called Gürtel network, who allegedly secured a number of valuable contracts in Valencia.
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Camps was reelected on May 22 to a third term by a substantial margin over his opponents.
On Friday, Valencia High Court Judge José Flors indicted Camps along with Ricardo Costa, the former PP secretary general in Valencia; Víctor Campos, the former deputy regional premier; and Rafael Betoret, the region's former tourism chief. Both Campos and Betoret pleaded guilty before the High Court ahead of Camps' news conference.
Camps was also expected to make the same plea in effort to save his regional post seat, but later in the day his lawyers postponed his appearance before Judge Flors.
"Those who attack me today will end up on the losing side," Camps said, adding that he will fight the improper bribery charges at trial.
Costa was also expected to plead guilty but at the last moment on Wednesday said he would not do so unless Camps followed suit.
The so-called "suit-gate" affair, and Camps' subsequent indictment, had been one of the biggest political thorns for Rajoy and the PP as they prepare for upcoming general elections.
When the charges first surfaced in 2009, Camps had always denied that he had received the dress suits, explaining that he paid for his own clothes. But days before Friday's indictment, Camps acknowledged that he received the accessories in his capacity as head of the PP party and not in his elected position as regional premier. However, Flors rejected that argument, saying that both jobs are "indivisible."
Ramón Jáuregui, the head of the prime minister's office, said that Camps decision was "coherent" and wished him "the best" in his personal life. Earlier in the day, Jáuregui had said that Camps could not stay on as regional premier if he pleads guilty.