Spain ruling party pressed over alleged corruption

A former Spanish ruling party treasurer amassed (EURO)22 million ($29 million) in Swiss bank accounts, a court said, prompting a barrage of questions Friday about whether senior officials may have been involved in alleged corruption before taking power in 2011.

Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria denied knowing anything about the money or newspaper reports that ex-treasurer Luis Barcenas also gave Popular Party members large sums in under-the-table payments.

Barcenas' lawyer denied the money was illegally obtained or had any links to the party. Barcenas hasn't been charged with any crime.

Saenz declined to answer questions about whether Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy or other members of the conservative government may have received money. She said she was a government spokeswoman and does not speak for party affairs.

The National Court said Thursday that an investigation into irregular payments by companies to party members in return for business contracts uncovered that Barcenas had five Swiss accounts.

Barcenas resigned as party treasurer in 2009, when the Popular Party was in opposition, and gave up his Senate seat in 2010, months after he was first named in the investigation.

"This plants unsettling doubts about Mariano Rajoy's management of the Popular Party," said opposition Socialist party leader Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba.

Separately, the secretary general of the Popular Party, Maria Dolores de Cospedal, denied "categorically" that the party had distributed "black cash bonuses" from the construction industry during her tenure and said she had no knowledge of such a thing having happened before.

De Cospedal said the party's accounts were clear and transparent, and that if anyone had made errors, it was up to each one to fix their own mess. "What goes around comes around," she said.

Alfonso Trallero, Barcenas' lawyer, tried to clear up the confusion by saying that his client had owned Swiss accounts since 1988, and although he did not know how much money his client had kept in Switzerland, he was sure all such funds were declared in 2012 and the corresponding taxes paid.

"It's unfair to state that money is the Popular Party's, or linked to it, or illegal money, because it is not," Trallero said to Canal Cuatro television. He acknowledged that it was a mistake not having declared that money to tax authorities earlier.

The lawyer said his client had also taken advantage of "a tax amnesty" to "regularize" roughly half of the money, something the Tax Office denied. Trallero then explained to radio station Cadena Ser that the regularization had been done using a partnership and not his client' name.

"How can Rajoy ask ordinary Spaniards to pay taxes when it appears his government is prepared to offer amnesties to his own ex-officials," Rubalcaba said.

Several hundred people gathered to protest outside the Popular Party's headquarters in central Madrid on Friday night, but were blocked from approaching the building by a strong police presence. Police, who lined the approach streets with 20 vans, said the impromptu protest was not authorized through the proper channels.

Another similar protest took place in the northeastern port city of Barcelona.

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Associated Press writer Ciaran Giles contributed to this report.

Enlargephoto

Spain's government spokeswoman and deputy premier Soraya Saenz de Santamaria speaks during a news conference at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid, Friday Jan. 18, 2013. Spain's conservative government is battling to defend itself and its Popular Party after a court revealed a former party treasurer amassed euro 22 million ($29.31 million) in a Swiss bank account. Saenz de Santamaria fended off a barrage of questions from journalists Friday by denying she knew anything about the money or newspaper reports that ex-treasurer Luis Barcenas also gave party members large sums in under-the table payments. She skirted questions as to whether Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy or other government members may have received money. (AP Photo/Paul White)