Rajoy denies Spain is corrupt after minister resigns in graft case

One of the draft laws presented by the conservative prime minister covers financing of political parties and the other aims to improve transparency and prevention of conflict of interests in government roles.

Rajoy denies Spain is corrupt after minister resigns in graft case

World Bulletin/News Desk

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy appealed to Spaniards on Thursday not to regard their politicians as corrupt, after a minister became the first government casualty in a series of cases of alleged graft.

Rajoy presented two anti-corruption laws, keen to show he is serious about tackling the problem before elections next year, as support ebbs from the two main political parties and newcomer Podemos races ahead in opinion polls.

"I can understand the irritation and distrust of our citizens but suspicion should not be levelled at everyone," he told parliament. "Most politicians are decent people. Spain is not corrupt."

Health Minister Ana Mato resigned on Wednesday after an investigating judge accused her of benefiting from a kickback scheme that has badly damaged the ruling People's Party (PP). Mato protested her innocence in her resignation statement, saying she had not been charged with any crime.

One of the draft laws presented by the conservative prime minister covers financing of political parties and the other aims to improve transparency and prevention of conflict of interests in government roles.

Neither is new; they have been stalled in parliament for months as the PP sought consensus with other parties and to incorporate amendments before they go to a vote.

But other parties have held back on cooperating. They believe the ruling party lacks legitimacy to fight corruption as an investigation known as the Gurtel case could end with three former PP treasurers and other party members facing trial.

"This case is like a set of Russian dolls... There is always another revelation," said Joan Queralt, law professor at the University of Barcelona. Rajoy had no choice but to make Mato resign as she had become a liability to the party, he added.

Mato faces questions from the judge on whether she knew of the provenance of gifts to her family such as hotel stays, flights and luxury goods. Her ex-husband, a former PP mayor, has been charged with receiving hundreds of thousands of euros in return for public works contracts.

Opposition Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez on Thursday said the PP had been irrevocably tarnished. "You are in no position to regenerate Spain against corruption," he told Rajoy in parliament. "You are not able or legitimate to lead."

However, a major beneficiary has been Podemos, whose anti-graft ticket has drawn voters disillusioned with both of the major parties, which have dominated politics since Spain's return to democracy in the late 1970s.

With Spaniards also weary after years of economic crisis under governments led by both major parties, Podemos - whose name means "We can" - would come a close third in a parliamentary election, an opinion poll indicated earlier this month.

The law on party financing will ban legal and corporate entities from making donations to parties, and banks will no longer be allowed to cancel their debts or negotiate with them interest rates that would be below market levels.

Both bills must now be debated in Spain's lower house before being passed into law.

Last Mod: 27 Kasım 2014, 14:06
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