Yesterday Spanish democracy saw an unprecedented happening: the appearance of a sitting prime minister as a witness in a criminal trial, and a corruption case at that. Mariano Rajoy was questioned in the trial of the Gürtel affair, one of the worst scandals of recent years in Spain, with dozens of businesspeople and PP party officials being prosecuted, such as former treasurer Luis Bárcenas. Our readers will recall that the alleged scheme, led by Francisco Correa, involved bribing PP politicians in exchange for favours. It was through this investigation that the PP was found to be keeping a slush fund fuelled by illegal commissions, which they used to pay off-the-books bonuses to the party’s leadership, including prime minister Rajoy himself.
Curiously (or not), the Spanish Guardia Civil (gendarmerie) yesterday questioned two high-ranking officials of the Catalan government in relation with the 1 October independence vote. They have also called for Joan Ignasi Elena, president of the National Pact for the Referendum, to make a statement today. The Pact was an organisation that collected signatures to carry out a referendum, sure, but a referendum under terms negotiated with Madrid. Is this a smoke screen?
But back to Rajoy. What did he say yesterday in front of the judge? Well, he claimed that he knew nothing. That the PP’s finances aren’t his business and his “responsibility is politics, not accounting”. In other words, he followed the political leaders’ playbook when talking about party finances: the responsibility belongs entirely with the treasurers.
But everything has a limit and, now, facing the avalanche of evidence as to how the PP was funded, there is little room to think that Mariano Rajoy knew nothing about the origin of that influx of cash that was used to pay for election campaigns far beyond the party’s means and, certainly, beyond the means of the other political parties. Rajoy’s testimony is not credible.
Yesterday’s statement was unprecedented for another reason. Rajoy didn’t testify as just another witness. Rather, he sat next to the jury in a show of flagrant favouritism. Justice can’t make this type of distinction because it breaks the principle of equality of all citizens before the law. The overall result is that Rajoy was spared an even more uncomfortable picture and was allowed the luxury of looking like an extra in the battle between the counsel for the defence and the prosecution. The show, however, was pathetic, a real mockery that we will continue to suffer for as long as Rajoy remains in office.