Last week it emerged that former Popular Party (PP) treasurer Luis Bárcenas had been receiving fixed payments from the party until December 2012. It was a revelation that contradicted the PP’s original story that it had cut off all relations with the corruption-plagued figure back in 2009, when his name first emerged in connection with the Gürtel kickbacks-for-contracts scandal. Since then, the party has opted for total silence, even going so far as to suspend its regular Monday press conference.
Inside the party, however, it’s a different story. According to PP sources, tensions are running high and the moves of party members are being carefully watched. As such, the decision of PP secretary general María Dolores de Cospedal to file lawsuits against both Bárcenas and EL PAÍS, which recently published documents revealing an alleged slush fund run by the ex-treasurer, have raised the ire of many leaders in the party.
Despite the fact that De Cospedal is the highest-ranking PP representative after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, she filed the lawsuits on an individual basis, in a Toledo court. Practically all of the party’s leaders found out about the move on Monday, when Spanish daily El Mundo broke the story. The news was later confirmed in a press release.
What is still unclear is whether De Cospedal had the blessing of Rajoy to bring the legal action, or whether she even informed him of her plans to do so beforehand. A spokesperson for the secretary general said she would not be drawn into that debate, and as such would not explain whether she discussed the move with the prime minister.
Bárcenas’ employment status in the party continues to be a mystery
At the last meeting of the Executive Committee of the PP, in which Rajoy said he had never been paid under-the-table cash, the matter of a lawsuit against Bárcenas formed the central basis of the discussion. A number of regional party barons, among them former Madrid premier Esperanza Aguirre, called on the PP to go after the ex-treasurer in the courts. De Cospedal explained that the possibility was being considered. Rajoy said nothing on the issue.
Since then the PP has been dragging its feet. And while the party’s legal team was studying the possibility of a lawsuit, Cospedal decided to act on her own. Some of the party’s leaders believe this decision has left other members of the party in a bad position — specifically, those who are mentioned in Bárcenas’ alleged slush fund ledgers. They are thought to be planning to file their own lawsuits against the ex-treasurer, but they will do so in their own time, and not collectively, which would make it look as if they had been prompted into doing so by De Cospedal’s suit. The same sources believe the secretary general’s move even leaves Rajoy in a tight spot, given that he is the main figure alluded to in the ex-treasurer’s papers — he is the only figure to be mentioned from 1997 to 2008 in the accounting ledgers — and yet she has filed a lawsuit, while Rajoy has not.
Meanwhile, Bárcenas’ employment status in the party continues to be a mystery. No one has dared to clarify whether or not he was on the party’s payroll. The PP’s parliamentary spokesman has failed to shed any further light on the matter. Asked whether the PP lied about its contractual situation with Bárcenas, he replied: “These questions exceed my capacity as spokesman.” He did, however, express the “deep disappointment of all [in the PP]” over Bárcenas’ behavior, and admitted there were still “many unanswered questions,” in particular exactly where the 22 million euros he had stashed away in Swiss bank accounts ended up.