Mariano Rajoy, and bit of summer reading

ABC is Spain’s third largest general interest paper, according to Wikipedia, and I’ve been following it today for coverage of Prime Minister Rajoy’s appearance in front of the tribunal which is hearing evidence in the case of businessman Francisco Correa and his links to the ruling Partido Popular (Rajoy, en la Audiencia: “Mis responsabilidades son políticas, no de contabilidad”).

ABC credits Rajoy with an assured performance and robust denials of any personal involvement in wrongdoing – as predicted in the run-up to the hearing, he stressed that as deputy general secretary of the party at the time, he dealt with political rather than funding issues but was in fact responsible for throwing Correa out when concerns about his activities started to emerge. The case is nonetheless deeply embarrassing and the paper outlines the wrangling that took place over presentational issues around the Prime Minister’s appearance – refused permission to give evidence by video link, he was allowed to take a seat in the area reserved for lawyers, judges and the prosecution rather than place normally taken by witnesses and defendants.

As a bit of light relief I had a look at one of the paper’s most widely read articles of the day, which turned out to be a list of the books ABC’s arts correspondents will be taking on holiday. The recommendations include Walter Benjamin’s unfinished book about Paris (the English version is called “The Arcades Project”), a novel by Colombian writer Héctor Abad Faciolince called “La Oculta” praised by Juan Fernández-Miranda for his ability to portray the relationships between people and his rhythmic and intense prose. Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors gets a plug from book critic Luís Alberto de Cuenca.

Prime Minister’s day in court

Another day, another newspaper (El Mundo) and another story about corruption in high places … El Mundo’s lead is the news that Mariano Rajoy, the Prime Minister of Spain, will be appearing as a witness in a court case which is exploring alleged illegal links between the ruling conservative Partido Popular and a group of businessmen led by Francisco Correa (El ‘testigo Rajoy’ declarará ante la Audiencia Nacional “Yo eché a Correa”). The case is closely linked to the scandal surrounding the party’s ex-Treasurer Luís Bárcenas. Rajoy has said that he will tell the court that he was the one who threw Correa out of the party, and he himself is not accused of any wrongdoing, but his appearance is a serious embarrassment to the party, which is preparing for a media onslaught. Commentators on this centre-rightish paper’s site are not impressed.

Other prominent stories today include the trial of a jihadist who has admitted targeting vulnerable teenagers in an attempt to recruit them as ISIS fighters or brides for fighters in Syria (El yihadista que reclutó mujeres para casarlas con terroristas se arrepiente de colaborar con el IS). Under a deal with the prosecution he is receiving a reduced (five year) sentence.

The paper also reports on the savage beating sustained by a member of Spain’s alternative left Podemos party (El miembro de Podemos agregido a Toledo: “Podría estar en el tanatorio). The motives for the attack are not clear; the victim is currently involved in a very messy divorce case but was rescued by his wife, who was on the scene and rushed in to help – without her intervention, he thinks he might have died.

Death of a banker

I wanted to find some good standalone stories to start this blog, but it’s hard – a lot of the articles I’ve read over the last few days give the latest developments in narratives that run back a long way.

The lead in today’s (21 July) edition of El País is the publication of the latest in a series of opinion polls that appears to show a continued fall in public support for Catalan independence, some two months ahead of the referendum (due to take place on 1 October but contested by Spain’s national government). The figures for and against independence now stand at 41% and and 49% respectively. The same poll has been tracking opinion against a wider range of options, and shows quite a lot of support for a federal-type future for Catalonia, as an alternative to outright independence and continuation of the status-quo. We shall see.

El País has also been covering the funeral of Miguel Blesa, the disgraced former President of Caja Madrid, one of Spain’s oldest savings banks, whose body was found near a hunting lodge on Wednesday. The paper reports that family members seem to be coming to terms with the suicide verdict confirmed by authorities after an autopsy yesterday. Blesa was facing a six-year prison sentence for his role in an expenses scandal at the bank, although he had, controversially, been released pending an appeal. This is another story which is likely to run and run, given the seriousness of the case (the paper describes it as the worst financial scandal in recent times).