European Interest

Spain’s ruling party courts controversy over bribery scheme

Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0
Demonstration against Bárcenas on 2 February 2013 outside the People's Party headquarters.

In a case that has become emblematic of political corruption in Spain, the country’s ruling party was found to have profited from illegal kickbacks and its former treasurer was sent to prison for 33 years on fraud and money laundering charges.

Luis Bárcenas was a close ally of Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Today, he is serving a prison sentence for his part in the conspiracy. Spain’s highest criminal court also fined him €44m.

In the same case, the court fined the People’s party (PP) €240,000 after judges ruled that they had benefited from the racket.

As reported by The Guardian, the so-called Gürtel case centred on Francisco Correa, a businessman with close ties to the PP who was accused of paying bribes to party officials between 1999 and 2006 in return for contracts to carry out public works and organise events. The investigation was codenamed Gürtel, the German word for correa (belt).

Correa was sentenced to 51 years in prison, and his lieutenant Pablo Crespo was jailed for 37 years and six months. Bárcenas’s wife, Rosalía Iglesias, was jailed for 15 years, and Correa’s ex-wife, Carmen Rodríguez Quijano, for 14 years and eight months.

According to the Reuters news agency, twenty-nine of the 37 accused were convicted of offences including falsifying accounts, influence-peddling and tax crimes, and they were sentenced to a combined 351 years behind bars, according to a court ruling.

In July 2017, Rajoy became the first serving Spanish premier to testify in a criminal case when he was called to give evidence to the Gürtel trial about his time as the PP’s vice-secretary general.

According to The Guardian, the PP will appeal the court’s decision to fine it. The party issued the following statement: “The People’s party has shown, and will continue to show, its commitment to the fight against corruption and none of those sentenced today in this trial is still in the party. No member of the current leadership or past leaderships has been charged in relation to this case. Some attended court as witnesses, which demonstrates that they had nothing whatsoever to do with [these] crimes.”

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