MADRID — Two conservative former Spanish prime ministers vehemently denied in testimony Wednesday at the National Court that they had any knowledge of illegal kickbacks and the alleged parallel party accounting that keeps haunting their Popular Party.
The high-stakes trial is trying to establish whether the renovation of the party’s headquarters in central Madrid more than a decade ago was paid for with an alleged slush fund largely built on bribes, and that also made under-the-table payments to party members.
A 2017 trial has already established that the party benefitted from a kickbacks scheme.
The main defendant is Luis Bárcenas, the party’s long-time treasurer, who was convicted and given a 29-year prison term in that case. Bárcenas, who has admitted to the crimes, faces up to five more years behind bars in the new trial.
The former accountant has made strong allegations against the party’s former leadership, delivering on a threat he had made before his wife, Rosalía Iglesias, was imprisoned for 13 years for tax evasion and other crimes.
Bárcenas has claimed that the party’s shadowy accounting dated back to the 1990s and that both José María Aznar and Mariano Rajoy, the two party leaders who went on to become prime ministers between 1996-2004 and 2011-2018 respectively, were aware of the slush fund.
At one point, Bárcenas claimed that he had seen Rajoy destroy documents detailing the shadowy accounting.
Rajoy hit back on Wednesday, providing his testimony to the court via video conference: “There has never been a slush fund in the Popular Party and of course I have never shredded what I never had in my hands,” he said.
Rajoy angrily maintained that the claims by his party’s former treasurer lacked credibility, saying: “It’s delirious and it’s beginning to be shameful.” In response to every allegation that lawyers and prosecutors made that he could have been aware of wrongdoings, Rajoy said: “It’s absolutely false.”
Aznar, who also offered his testimony as a witness via video link, denied any knowledge of such funds. He also said that he always paid taxes on his salary, and was never paid any extras under the table.
“I never received any complement to my salary, I don’t know what others have done nor do I care, nor what my successors did,” Aznar said. “It does not interest me.”
Reports of the murky accounting first emerged in 2013 and have cast a long shadow on the party that for nearly four decades took turns in government with Spain’s Socialists.
Rajoy was ousted in 2018 as prime minister when the same court ruled that the party had benefitted from a scandalous kickback scheme.
His successor, Pablo Casado, has been trying to project an image of zero-tolerance towards corruption and blamed a recent electoral defeat in the northeastern Catalonia region on the judicial scandals.
In a new effort to cut ties with the past, Casado announced last month that he would move the party’s headquarters out of its symbolic location in the heart of Madrid.