Trial highlights shadowy past of Spain's conservative party

Full Screen
1 / 2

Former Popular Party treasurer Luis Barcenas, sits in the National Court in San Fernando de Henares, just outside of Madrid, Spain, Monday Feb. 8, 2021. A court in Spain has begun a high-stakes trial that has brought back the attention on the illegal funding scheme that has been hunting Spain's Popular Party, in a case that casts a long shadow on the country's polarized politics. (Ballesteros, Pool Photo via AP)

MADRID – A high-stakes trial beginning Monday is bringing back a spotlight on the illegal kickbacks scheme that for years has haunted Spain's Popular Party, casting a long shadow on the country's main conservative party despite its pledges of regeneration.

The proceedings at the National Court in Madrid are looking into whether the renovation of the party's headquarters in the Spanish capital more than a decade ago was paid for with an alleged slush fund largely built on bribes.

The case is the latest in a legal saga that began when allegations of the party's decades-long shadowy accounting first emerged in 2013.

The Popular Party, or PP, which has been a dominating presence during Spain's past four decades of democracy, has already paid a high political price for corruption scandals by its members or elected officials.

In mid-2018, former party chief Mariano Rajoy was ousted as prime minister in a no-confidence vote after a court ruled that the party had benefitted from a scandalous kickback scheme.

Luis Bárcenas, the party's long-time treasurer, is currently serving a 29-year prison term for that case. On Monday, together with four other defendants, he takes the stand again in the new trial.

The former accountant faces up to five more years behind bars if judges this time establish that the renovation of the party's central office was partially paid for from the slush fund that Bárcenas controlled and whether the party evaded taxes on the illegal donations that private companies and individuals made, some in return for public contracts.

Bárcenas has admitted to the crimes and threatened to reveal more details that could be damaging for former party members because he claims that they failed to deliver on a promise to spare his wife from prison in exchange for the former treasurer's silence. His wife, Rosalía Iglesias, is serving a 13-year prison term for tax evasion and other crimes.