Spain’s High Court, the Audiencia Nacional, has ruled that the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, must appear in person in court on July 26 as a witness in the so-called Gürtel trial. The court case centers on a wide-reaching kickbacks-for-contracts scandal that has plagued Rajoy’s Popular Party (PP) for years now. The Spanish leader’s party had previously requested that his appearance be via video conference and not in person.
Rajoy will not be appearing in his role as prime minister, but rather as a private citizen, according to the two magistrates in favor of the ruling (the third opposed). The majority ruling found the reasons cited by the PP for Rajoy to appear via video conference were not “consistent.” For example, the court “did not understand” why the party had argued that his appearance at the court in the Madrid neighborhood of San Fernando de Henares would require a large deployment of public resources, given that it is just 18 kilometers from La Moncloa.
Rajoy’s busy agenda was not put into doubt by the court, but they ruled that it is “not a hindrance for his appearance”
What’s more, the judges dismissed Rajoy’s claims that security would not be sufficiently high at the courtroom. “The security at the High Court in San Fernando has greater guarantees than those offered at other company headquarters and institutions in the Madrid region,” they argued, pointing out that the witness has regularly taken part in events, meetings and rallies with citizens during election campaigning.
Rajoy’s busy agenda as prime minister was not put into doubt by the court, but they ruled that it is “not a hindrance for his appearance.”
The court did say, however, that it would respect Rajoy’s position as prime minister and would adopt “all of the measures that are necessary in order to preserve his institutional image.”
The appearance will be the first time in Spanish history that a prime minister has appeared as a witness in a court case.
The Gürtel scandal has been a thorn in the side of the PP for years now. The sprawling case involves a corrupt business network that operated across six Spanish regions between 1999 and 2005. It was allegedly run by Francisco Correa (whose surname translates as belt, or Gürtel in German), a businessman who cultivated relationships with PP officials, offering them gifts in exchange for government contracts in public works and event organization. At the height of his power, Correa went by the nickname of Don Vito, after the character in The Godfather.
This is the first time in Spanish history that a prime minister has appeared as a witness in a court case
With nearly 200 official suspects, the trial has been broken up into sections to facilitate the investigation. The main trial began on October 4 at the Spain’s High Court, with 37 people in the dock. In February of this year three leading figures in the case – including Correa – were sentenced to 13 years in prison each by the Valencia region’s High Court.
One of the ramifications of the investigation involves the possibility of illegal party financing by the PP. Secret accounts kept by former treasurer Luis Bárcenas suggest the existence of a slush fund within the conservative group.
English version by Simon Hunter.