The paper claims it has seen hand-written accounting books held by Álvaro Lapuerta and Luis Bárcenas, who served as treasurers of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's Partido Popular (PP) between 1990 and 2009.
These books register donations made to the party by Spanish businesspeople. But most importantly, they seem to show that Rajoy himself and other senior members of PP were handed out sobresueldos (extra pay, bonuses) which were allegedly distributed in envelopes with cash - and therefore completely tax-free. According to the paper, Rajoy received sobresueldos regularly between 1997 and 2008.
Such allegations had already emerged earlier this year, and an internal investigation is currently under way. However, the documents published today could be the first concrete evidence of what may, if confirmed, trigger a big scandal in Spanish politics. The names in the books include not just Rajoy, but also, for example, Rodrigo Rato (former Finance Minister, who recently also appeared in court for the Bankia case).
The Secretary General of PP, María Dolores de Cospedal (whose name is also in the secret books) has just held a press conference from the party's headquarters in Madrid's Calle de Génova - perhaps to convey the message that this is a party, not a government issue. The gist of her declarations was: the documents are false, and we will take the necessary legal action to prove it.
Rajoy is not planning to speak to journalists for now. His first public appearance will therefore be on Monday, when a joint presser with Angela Merkel is scheduled. For the moment, a bit of background info could be useful for those who do not follow Spanish politics on a daily basis:
- Luis Bárcenas served as PP treasurer until July 2009.
- It emerged recently that he had up to €22 million deposited in various Swiss accounts. Reports in the Spanish press suggest that the money was moved from those accounts in 2009 (although to where exactly is still unclear), when Bárcenas was involved in another corruption scandal, the so-called Gürtel case.
- Bárcenas himself has now told Spanish prosecutors that he brought almost €11 million of that money back to Spain, through the 'tax amnesty' introduced by Rajoy's government. The opposition Socialist Party has obviously suggested that the amnesty was made precisely to cover Bárcenas and others.
- When the fact that Bárcenas held bank accounts in Switzerland came in the public domain, sources close to him suggested that he knew enough to put several leading figures of PP into trouble. Interestingly, though, he has moved swiftly to make clear that he does not recognise the secret books published by El País and is considering taking the paper to court.