Text messages reveal Rajoy offering Bárcenas behind-the-scenes support

“Keep your composure because that’s the last thing that you can lose,” PM wrote

Luis Bárcenas began ramping up the pressure on the Popular Party (PP) as soon as the judicial investigation into his Swiss bank accounts and tax dealings began to unfold. But the one time-PP treasurer — who was first implicated in the Gürtel kickbacks-for-contracts scandal in 2009, and is currently in protective custody in the Soto del Real prison — grew impatient with the way the party was treating him and complained to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

While Rajoy has avoided mentioning the word “Bárcenas” in public — at one point in January he said he couldn’t remember the last time he “had spoken with that individual” — a series of text messages published by Spanish newspaper El Mundo on Saturday show that Rajoy and Bárcenas had been in contact at least up until March 6 of this year. The messages show that Rajoy was privately lending support to the party’s embattled former finance chief even after it was made public that Bárcenas had tens of millions of euros stashed away in Swiss bank accounts, and also following the publication by EL PAÍS of his ledgers, which recorded purported payoffs to top PP officials from a slush fund.

“Mariano, the party lawyer’s behavior this afternoon was embarrassing. They didn’t allow the people that I sent over to check the contents of the boxes that were inside the office you gave me authorization to use. Only you know what you are playing with, but I am free from all my commitments with you and the party,” Bárcenas wrote on March 14, less than two months after he had been let go from the PP, where he had been working as an advisor.

Bárcenas had formally stepped down as treasurer in early 2010 but after EL PAÍS published his ledgers on January 31, it emerged that he had still been on the party’s payroll and was being allowed to use a room at the organization’s Madrid headquarters as an office.

The PP claimed it had been giving Bárcenas his severance pay up until December, but in a lawsuit the former treasurer said that he found out that he was unjustly fired — after the ledgers were published — when the party stopped paying his monthly social security contributions.

As this entire battle between Bárcenas and the PP over his pay and treatment by his former party played out publicly, Rajoy called him on March 6 but he had his cellphone switched off. Bárcenas returned the prime minister’s call but Rajoy didn’t answer. “I had my cellphone off; I tried to call you back but I wasn’t able to get in touch with you,” he wrote in a text message. Eight days later, the final break occurs between Bárcenas and Rajoy, who didn’t return his phone call.

The SMS messages show that Rajoy had also been in close contact with Bárcenas’ wife, Rosalía Iglesias, who is also facing tax evasion and money laundering charges along with her husband. On September 1, 2011, Rajoy wrote: “Many congratulations Rosa. We hope everything is confirmed. A hug for you and Luis.” Later that day, Madrid regional High Court Judge Antonio Pedreira, who at the time was presiding over the Gürtel inquiry — dismissed charges filed against Bárcenas. They were later reinstated the following year after prosecutors appealed the decision.

Three months after Rajoy won the elections, in February 2012, he sent a message to Bárcenas that read: “Luis, that is not true. Why do you want to cause trouble. I spoke to her... This isn’t an easy situation. Mistakes can’t be made. Keep your composure because that is the last thing that you can lose. Regards.”

“Her,” according to all indications, refers to María Dolores de Cospedal, the PP secretary general and the person Bárcenas considers responsible for being left to his fate by the party.

Three days later, Rajoy sent Bárcenas another message: “Luis, nothing is easy, but we will do what we can. Keep your chin up.”

In early January of this year, reports began circulating about the PP’s slush fund and a double accounting system. Then on January 21, former PP deputy Jorge Trías Sagnier came forward to acknowledge payments to the conservative group’s leaders — sometimes “given in cash-stuffed envelopes” — in a column he wrote for EL PAÍS. On January 31, EL PAÍS published the ledgers, which show a list of prominent PP members — including Rajoy and De Cospedal — receiving payments on top of their regular salaries.

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