Spanish court rules on conservative party's slush fund use

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FILE – In this Monday, May 28, 2018 file photo, Former Popular Party‘s treasurer Luis Barcenas arrives to the National Court. A top Spanish court has delivered a 2-year prison term to the former treasurer of Spain’s powerful conservative party for using a slush fund to pay for the renovation of the party’s headquarters. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

MADRID (AP) — A top Spanish court has given a 2-year prison term to the former treasurer of Spain's powerful conservative party for using a slush fund to pay for the renovation of the party's headquarters more than a decade ago.

In Thursday's ruling, Spain's National Court said it couldn't establish if the leaders of the Popular Party were directly aware of the actions of Luis Bárcenas, the party's powerful accountant between 1990 and 2008.

But it found the party guilty of saving 123,669 euros ($143,000) in unpaid corporate taxes by failing to disclose the shadowy payment of more than 1 million euros in cash for the facelift of the party's offices in central Madrid.

The Popular Party, which ruled Spain between 1996-2004 and 2011-2018, is currently the main opposition force to a Socialist-led progressive coalition, but the party has been haunted by illegal kickbacks and parallel party accounting.

A 2017 trial had already established that the Popular Party benefited from a kickbacks scheme for which Bárcenas was convicted and given a 29-year prison term. This time, the National Court was trying to establish if the Popular Party's office renovation up to 2010 had been paid for with the slush fund that the treasurer largely built on bribes.

The ruling said the payment was made “outside of the billing and official accounting” and that the deal was “not declared to the Public Treasury.”

The court also fined Bárcenas 1.2 million euros. It also sentenced the two partners of the architectural firm who carried out the renovation to 2 years and 9 months behind bars.

José María Aznar and Mariano Rajoy, two former Spanish prime ministers and ex-Popular Party leaders, vehemently denied during the trial of having had any knowledge of the scheme. Rajoy was ousted from office in 2018 when the party's kickback scheme was brought to court.

In an effort to distance himself from the party's murky past, their successor, Pablo Casado, has vowed to relocate the Popular Party's offices out of the symbolic headquarters in the heart of Madrid.

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