The suit for defamation that the Popular Party (PP) filed against EL PAÍS's publisher on Wednesday will go down in history as the lowest ebb in the whole Bárcenas case as regards the decisions taken by the ruling party since this newspaper published the former PP treasurer's accounting ledgers. The party says that EL PAÍS "intentionally damaged the image and good reputation of the party, its leaders and employees" by publishing the account sheets which show (mostly illegal) donations from companies, as well as payments to leading party officials and others to cover expenses of various kinds. It is true that the scandal has undermined trust in the conservative grouping, and not just that of its employees and voters, but of citizens in general.
On top of the initial revelation have come the fudging and confused explanations by PP leaders on what relationship Bárcenas continued to have with the party after officially resigning as treasurer in 2010. It transpires that he was still a PP employee up until the very day that the ledgers were published. Most voters have decided that they do not believe a single word Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's party has to say on the issue. Right from the start, the PP's denial of the slush fund was met with incredulity. According to a Metroscopia poll, 76 percent of Spaniards (and 58 percent of PP voters) did not consider the party's explanation over the ledgers convincing or credible. Today no one will believe the party's will to halt corruption when its top priority is to take this newspaper to court over the serious allegations pertaining to the Bárcenas affair.
In contrast to the PP's claim that the newspaper has "irresponsibly" published documents whose veracity "has not been corroborated," EL PAÍS can assure its readership that it has fulfilled its professional obligations to the last detail. The information published in these pages is both true and very much in the public interest, however inconvenient this may prove for the powers-that-be. The necessary techniques to guarantee journalistic rigor have been practiced at all times.
As for the facts as established by this newspaper, High Court Judge Pablo Ruz — whose investigation of Bárcenas' financial maneuverings had already led him to uncover Swiss bank accounts the ex-PP treasurer had filled with millions of euros — has seen fit to look into the papers obtained by EL PAÍS. In turn, Judge Ruz's decision to probe the ledgers was informed by a report by the police's UDEF financial crimes squad which establishes numerous connections between the former treasurer's ledgers and the Gürtel corruption network, the biggest graft ring in Spain's democratic history.
Of course, the PP is within its rights to sue whoever it wishes. But its leaders should realize that it is by no means an inconsequential act. Suing a newspaper in these circumstances exposes as a sham its commitment to transparency in the eyes of activists, voters and the country as a whole. Instead of focusing its energies on clearing up the allegations against a former employee — who enjoyed the party's complete trust in financial affairs over two decades — the PP is firing back in the direction from which this inconvenient information came. Such an attitude does no service to its own reputation or democratic decency, something which the country is in dire need of.
This is the first and last time that this newspaper has commented on the PP's legal complaint against it in an editorial. Now it is up to the justice system to establish the origins of Bárcenas' fortune and the veracity of his accounting notes.