A protester holds a placard depicting Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy… (Lluis Gene / AFP/Getty Images )
MADRID -- A defiant Mariano Rajoy, Spain's prime minister, on Monday accused his party's former treasurer of blackmail and refused to resign in the face of increasing demands he step down amid a corruption scandal.
"The rule of law does not bow to blackmail," he told reporters.
Rajoy's remarks came after the former money man for Spain's ruling conservatives, Luis Barcenas, told a Madrid judge that he personally gave illegal cash payments to Rajoy. Barcenas also said he made payments to the Popular Party's secretary-general, Maria Dolores de Cospedal, according to Spanish news reports.
The developments are the latest in a scandal that has roiled Spanish politics since January when Spain's biggest newspaper, El Pais, published excerpts of accounting ledgers [link in Spanish] that purportedly listed bribes. A top conservative newspaper, El Mundo, published similar excerpts this month.
Barcenas said the money came from a slush fund the party secretly maintained for more than two decades, funneling bribes from construction companies and other donors to top politicians. On Monday, he submitted several handwritten documents and digital files to the judge.
Rajoy has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.
"I will fulfill the mandate the Spanish people gave me," Rajoy said Monday at a news conference with Poland's visiting prime minister, Donald Tusk. "This is a serious democracy ... and I will submit myself to investigation."
The scandal undermines Spain's ruling conservatives at a time when they are asking the country to submit to major budget cuts and tax hikes. Spain's jobless rate tops 27%.
"Let no one think we are going to be distracted from getting Spain out of the [economic] crisis," Rajoy said.
Although Rajoy has avoided mentioning Barcenas' name in any comments he has made, another leading Spanish newspaper, El Mundo, published text messages he allegedly sent to Barcenas this year, screen shots of which were published Sunday [link in Spanish].
"Luis, I understand. Stay strong. I'll call you tomorrow. A hug," one message read.
"Luis, nothing is easy. But we are doing what we can," another text said. "Cheer up."
Barcenas has a troubled past. A former senator, he served as the party's treasurer until 2009, when he was named a suspect in a separate corruption probe. He was jailed last month after prosecutors discovered about $61 million he had allegedly secreted away in Swiss bank accounts. He awaits trial on tax fraud and corruption charges, which he denies.
Barcenas repeated in court Monday his claim that the handwriting on the ledgers excerpted by newspapers was his, according to judiciary officials quoted in the Spanish press. He also said that he handed cash payments to Rajoy and De Cospedal in 2008, 2009 and 2010, the officials reported.
Rajoy was a senior lawmaker for the Popular Party at that time. He was elected prime minister in late 2011.
The latest revelations have increased pressure on Rajoy. On Sunday, Spain's opposition Socialists broke off ties with the Popular Party and called on Rajoy to resign immediately.
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