The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, became the first holder of that office to appear in court on Wednesday. He was appearing as a witness in the long-running ‘Caso Gürtel’ corruption trial.
The complex trial centres on the involvement of Francisco Correa (Correa’s name means belt, which in German is Gürtel) with PP party officials in the Madrid and Valencia regions. Correa organised events during the PP government of José María Aznar.
Although the appearance of a serving prime minister was unprecedented, court documents and the PP itself stressed that Mariano Rajoy was appearing not in his role as head of the government but as a private citizen answering questions about his roles at the top of the party in the early part of the century.
Some members of the panel of judges trying the case had been reluctant to call the PM, however once the decision was taken earlier this year, the debate then focused on whether the court would go to Rajoy’s office or he would give evidence via video link. Finally it was decided that he would attend the court sitting in person, which was broadcast live on national television and attracted wide interest.
For almost two hours Rajoy fielded a hundred questions about what he knew about alleged corruption involving Correa and former treasurer of the PP party, Luis Bárcenas.
The PM claimed that while heading the PP, “Iran the politics, not the accounts”, saying that he left the party’s financial affairs to others. He said he know nothing of alleged illegal donations.
In reply to questioning about supposed ‘black’ payments to some senior party members, he denied it happened, saying all money was declared.
Communication experts watching Rajoy’s performance in court generally agreed that he came across well in the interrogation. One said: “Iexpected a more insecure and subdued Rajoy. But he was comfortable, with fluid answers, without hesitating.”