Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who vehemently denied on Saturday that he received any money from a reported slush fund controlled by the party’s treasurers, is the Popular Party (PP) official whose name appears the most in secret ledgers that record the amounts of cash paid out to leaders over a 12-year period.
Rajoy’s name appears in 35 bookkeeping entries with a total of 322,231 euros paid out to him. These budgetary items in the ledgers prepared by former treasurer Luis Bárcenas, however, are separate from other allotments Rajoy received for perks such as clothing allowances that amounted to another 33,207 euros.
Although some quarterly entries by Bárcenas show that other PP leaders at the time, such as former secretary generals Francisco Álvarez Cascos and Javier Arenas, got higher amounts than the now-prime minister, Rajoy is the only official who has remained continuously in the PP’s national committee from 1997 to 2008 — the period the bulk of the ledgers covers.
The secrets contained in the ledgers kept by Bárcenas — which have become the focus of international media coverage and global speculation over whether their revelation could bring down Spain’s conservative government — have put the PP in a delicate situation.
Since Thursday night, thousands of citizens have taken to the streets in Madrid, Barcelona and Zaragoza demanding that Rajoy and the PP government step down. Police have blocked off a wide section of Génova street in Madrid, where the PP’s national headquarters is located and where demonstrators have been gathering throughout the weekend.
“He must come to terms with the people and step down,” said a 66-year-old retired government employee on Saturday night.
Faced with a severe credibility crisis, the Rajoy administration has promised a full internal audit of its accounts plus a review of its findings by external auditors. Many of the PP’s top leaders, including former regional premier Esperanza Aguirre, who continues to be a party heavyweight, demanded legal action against Bárcenas during Saturday’s emergency national executive committee meeting.
“We have to go after those who have been laughing at us and who have caused us a lot of grief,” said Juan Vicente Herrera, premier of Castilla y León.
José Ramón Bauzá, the Balearic Islands premier, said the party should not cave in to “blackmail.”
“We are under a state of siege, but the problem doesn’t come from those who are screaming from the outside. The problem resides among those of us who are disillusioned,” Aguirre said.
Following Rajoy’s brief address about the scandal related to Bárcenas’ bookkeeping — a news conference that reporters were forced to follow on a television screen in an adjacent room and where no questions were permitted — many PP leaders said they were surprised that the prime minister didn’t openly attack Bárcenas.
Publicly, PP officials are putting in doubt the authenticity of Bárcenas’ ledgers and have attacked EL PAÍS for publishing them. But privately, they have placed themselves on the defensive: “Bárcenas is an imposter who has been stealing from the party all these years,” said one official.
An opinion poll published by EL PAÍS on Sunday showed that neither of the two big parties could win a clear majority if an election was held today. The Metroscopia polling firm said the PP had 23.9 percent support — the lowest on record and down from 29.8 percent in last month’s survey. The Socialists continued with about the same amount of support as the last poll, with 23.5 percent approval.
For some time, Rajoy has known that Bárcenas was a time bomb ticking away. It was the PP leader who promoted him to treasurer in June 2008 during a party convention. He had been a finance manager for the PP under then-treasurer Álvaro Lapuerta and was well aware of all of the PP’s financing schemes. He knew the names of all the businessmen who contributed to the party, and those who should be given favors for their help.
The day that Bárcenas was named as an official target in the massive Gürtel kickback-for-contracts investigation in 2009, Rajoy knew right off hand that he could turn into a public menace for the party. If the time bomb went off, Rajoy’s goal to become prime minister would be blown to smithereens.
Bárcenas, who stepped down temporarily as treasurer in 2009 and permanently in January 2010, was allowed to keep his office and secretary at the party headquarters. Rajoy wanted to keep an eye on the man who knew a lot of party secrets.
After Madrid High Court Judge Antonio Pedreira dropped the Gürtel charges against him — saying it was Bárcenas who had warned the party about the Gürtel conspirators — anti-corruption prosecutors filed their appeal with the national High Court, which accepted reopening the case.
Bárcenas had thought he would be able to return to the echelons of power after the PP won the November 2011 elections. But with the renewed charges filed against him, the former treasurer felt he had been left out in the cold by the party. They had already taken away his attorney’s fees after EL PAÍS broke a story on the matter.
At one point, Bárcenas told Judge Pedreira that he felt the entire legal system and the Spanish state were out to get him.
The situation came to a head when Swiss authorities alerted Spanish investigators that they had found 22 million euros in an account linked to Bárcenas' name. The scandal grew worse when El Mundo published a report about the side payments that many PP leaders had received on a regular basis throughout the years, but the newspaper pointed out that the neither Rajoy nor María Dolores de Cospedal, the PP secretary general, received them.
Then, EL PAÍS published that the handouts began when José María Aznar took over the presidency — allegations that were the basis of a column by former PP Deputy Jorge Trías Sagnier last month and then in a later interview.