The documents made the front page of just about every newspaper in Spain today, after El Pais first published them this morning.
They look like extracts from a bookie’s ledger: Column after column of handwritten dates, names and cash sums. They’re not in reference to horses, though, but to political leaders. The top leaders of Spain’s Popular Party, or PP, which is currently in power.
The documents appear to be a secret record of under-the-table payoffs to the PP’s top dogs, dating all the way back to 1990, as well as donations to the party mostly from big construction firms. The record was created and maintained by none other than the PP’s last two party treasurers, the guys who controlled the largely unregulated cash pouring into party coffers.
One prominent name appearing in the ledger is that of the current Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, the man who just days ago said his hand would not waiver if it came to light that anyone among the ranks was engaging in illegal activity.
The documents purport to show that Rajoy received an annual “parallel pay” of around $32,000 a year, for 11 years.
Two former high-ranking members of the PP corroborated the existence of secret, cash-stuffed envelopes, before Thursday’s revelations. But party leaders have been vehemently denying knowledge of the funny money, much less having accepted any. The PP has threatened to take legal action against whomever is behind the documents, insinuating that they’re false.
But then today one current member of parliament for the PP admitted he had received about $8,000 from the treasury, on the quiet – but paid it back. This is hardly proof of systemic stealing within the party, but it adds to doubts among Spanish citizens who already largely considered the country’s political class to be corrupt.
Another worrying detail: These documents have come to light via an investigation into one of the former PP treasurers, who police say stole and squirreled away in Switzerland $30 million in public funds. That same treasurer also admitted this week in court that he laundered about half that money back into Spain through a recent tax-evasion amnesty program.
As of this writing, many questions remain unanswered. Not only as to whether the pay-offs ledger is real, and whether secret money was slipped to PP execs, but whether such payments are even illegal.
Legal or not, this is rapidly spiraling into an unprecedented crisis of ethics in modern Spanish politics. Prime Minister Rajoy has called an emergency meeting of his inner circle for this Saturday.