PARTY IN CRISIS

Bárcenas affair augurs internal PP war

Testimony of top officials in financing scandal places PM Rajoy in difficult position

The repercussions of the Bárcenas affair, being played out in the High Court against a backdrop of burgeoning voter disaffection, is creating a schism in a political party accustomed to closing ranks when controversy looms.

In testimony given this week, current Popular Party (PP) secretary general, María Dolores de Cospedal, and two of her predecessors in the post have failed to provide official data to disprove the claims of former party treasurer Luis Bárcenas, who is in preventive custody accused of tax fraud and money laundering.

All three have denied the existence of a parallel accounting system within the ruling party, while declaring that the illegal donations Bárcenas has testified to handling between 1990 and 2008 are the preserve of the two treasurers employed by the PP during that period.

But De Cospedal's appearance has opened the breach further still and it remains to be seen who Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will choose to cast into the chasm. The PP number two told Judge Pablo Ruz that she had not taken part in the 2010 decision to keep Bárcenas in the party fold. Her responses to the judge indicated that Rajoy and his trusted lieutenant, Javier Arenas, were the instigators of the special protection afforded to the tainted treasurer.

It remains to be seen who Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy  will choose to cast into the chasm

Sources within De Cospedal's circle consider she had little choice: "All she did in front of the judge was to tell the truth of what occurred. She showed courage."

Arenas, the current PP number three, has found himself increasingly marginalized and on Tuesday he told Judge Ruz about a meeting with Bárcenas, at which the secretary general was not present, where the terms of the latter's continued employment at party headquarters were hammered out.

This testimony did Arenas few favors, as it implied he had persuaded Rajoy to retain Bárcenas on the highest salary within the PP, possibly to eliminate any temptation on the treasurer's part to reach for his whistle if ushered to the door.

There will be divisions over this. There is a sector of the party that is tired and this is going to generate internal problems"

In Arenas's circle, the court appearances of the party hierarchy are viewed quite differently: "De Cospedal's testimony was unexpected and extremely unfortunate in pointing the finger at Arenas but, above all, at the prime minister. It was also inelegant of her to try to remove herself from the firing line. This will have consequences, at least in the internal ambit of the party," a ranking PP source told EL PAÍS.

"What need was there to accuse others over Bárcenas' severance deal when

[former secretary general Francisco Álvarez]-Cascos and Arenas have not incriminated anyone?" ask supporters of the party strongman. "The atmosphere is strained. There will be divisions over this. There is a sector of the party that is tired and this is going to generate internal problems."

Meanwhile, the main opposition Socialist Party went on the offensive Thursday through its deputy secretary general Elena Valenciano.

"Does Mariano Rajoy have anything to say?" she asked in the wake of De Cospedal's High Court testimony.

On her Facebook account, Valenciano stated that De Cospedal had contradicted the prime minister, "who arranged with Bárcenas the details of a relationship that included, among other things, the payment of his defense lawyers."

One of the lawyers representing Bárcenas has said that De Cospedal had prior knowledge of the arrangement between Rajoy, Arenas and the former treasurer.

Bárcenas also testified on July 15 that this was the case.

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