Spain's Ruling Party To Probe Alleged Corruption

By HAROLD HECKLE

MADRID (AP) ⿿ Spain's governing Popular Party announced Saturday that it will investigate the financial activities of a former treasurer whom a court said had amassed an unexplained ⿬22 million ($29 million) in Swiss bank accounts.

After three days of intense public and media pressure, which saw party leaders try to distance themselves from any alleged corruption, party spokeswoman Maria Dolores de Cospedal said a scandal had to be averted.

"Information that is appearing these days can cause a scandal and is so serious that our party has to be exemplary and has to react," she said. "Therefore, we will have to go over everything we have done to prove to all Spaniards that our hands are clean."

Earlier, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had said his hand "would not tremble" if revelations of alleged corruption in his party proved to be true. "There are matters before the courts, and those courts are acting," he said, referring to a court investigation that revealed ex-treasurer Luis Barcenas' Swiss accounts.

The case comes as Spain tries to emerge from its second recession in three years and has an unemployment rate of 25 percent, the highest in the European Union.

On Friday, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria denied knowing anything about the money or newspaper reports that Barcenas also gave Popular Party members large sums in under-the-table payments.

The same day, Cospedal denied that the party had distributed "black cash bonuses" from the construction industry to some of its top leaders.

The Spanish press has been scathing about the party's apparent inaction, and the normally supportive newspaper El Mundo said on its front page Saturday that the impression the Popular Party is giving is that it is "debating whether to cover up the secret payments or investigate them."

Barcenas resigned as party treasurer in 2009, some months after the investigation began, and he has not been charged with any crime. Barcenas' lawyer, Alfonso Trallero, has denied the money was illegally obtained or linked to the Popular Party.

While still in opposition, before taking office in November, Rajoy often showed public support for Barcenas.

The court revelations led to impromptu street protests in Madrid and Barcelona on Friday and Saturday.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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