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Spanish Prime Minister Gets Grilled Over Bribery Claims


In Spain, efforts at economic recovery are being overshadowed by a bribery scandal. Top politicians have been accused of taking under-the-table cash from construction companies. The ruling party's former treasurer is in jail. And yesterday, the prime minister had to explain himself in parliament. Lauren Frayer reports from Madrid.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy spent months refusing to utter the name of his old friend Luis Barcenas, a former treasurer of Spain's ruling party who's now behind bars. When the prime minister was finally forced to say that name in parliament, Thursday...


FRAYER: The chamber erupted.


FRAYER: Rajoy and several other top politicians are accused of taking bribes. Barcenas is the one who's implicated them. He confessed to running a secret slush fund for the party, and says he personally handed the prime minister envelopes stuffed with tens of thousands of dollars in cash. He's given prosecutors evidence he says proves it - accounting logs for the past 20 years. Rajoy denies it all.

: (speaks Spanish)

FRAYER: Ladies and gentlemen, I can't say it in any other way: they're false, the accusations. They're false, the half-truths. And it's false, the media's interpretation of all this, he told lawmakers. Rajoy says politicians did accept bonuses, and reimbursement for expenses, but that it was all legal. He's paid his taxes and declared all income. This is all a misunderstanding, he says. Opposition leaders, and many ordinary Spaniards, simply don't believe him.


FRAYER: Protesters take to the streets almost daily here asking why should the people accept tough austerity measures - budget cuts and tax hikes - if their prime minister may have been lining his own pockets for years?

LAURA GONZALEZ: The citizens are running out of patience with the politicians.

FRAYER: Laura Gonzalez is an economist at Fordham University in New York, herself part of a generation of educated Spaniards who see a better future abroad. She says corruption hurts the Spanish government's credibility, at a time when it's struggling to emerge from the worst recession in its democratic history.

GONZALEZ: If Spain is to recover and to prosper, we need independent, competent leaders. We now have a very ill political system, in which politicians that are deeply involved in corruption, they are using the political system to protect themselves.

FRAYER: A recent poll shows only 14 percent of Spaniards believe Prime Minister Rajoy is innocent. But he's got such a large majority in parliament, he's likely to hang on until elections in two years. Unless, of course, even more damaging revelations emerge from his old friend Barcenas's jail cell. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.
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