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Spanish prime minister under fire over party graft case

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Spanish prime minister under fire over party graft case

Spanish prime minister under fire over party graft case
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REUTERS/Paul Hanna
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Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said he will not call a snap election following threats by two parties to bring his ruling People's Party (PP) down in a no-confidence vote.

It comes amid a graft trial on Thursday involving members of his party in which a judge convicted 29 business people and former PP officials for fraud, tax evasion, and money laundering, among other crimes.

On Friday, Pedro Sánchez, the leader of the opposition PSOE, said the verdict in the so-called Gürtel corruption case had “seriously damaged the health of our democracy” and further diminished Rajoy’s credibility.

“That is why we have filed a motion of no-confidence against Prime Minister Rajoy this morning,” he said after a meeting of the PSOE’s executive committee.

REUTERS/Juan Medina

The Gürtel case is considered one of the greatest corruption episodes in Spain's modern history.

The judge handed down prison sentences totaling 351 years, one of which to the PP's former party treasurer, and close ally of the prime minister, Luis Bárcenas, who was fined €44 million.

The judge also gave a €245,000 fine to Rajoy's conservative party, which the ruling describes as a “profit-seeking participant” in the scheme and said there was strong evidence of a slush fund in the party that helped finance political campaigns between 1995-2008.

The anti-austerity Podemos party has said it will support PSOE's motion. Ciudadanos, the centre-right party said it would not back the Socialist demand, but gave the prime minister an ultimatum: call an election or face their own second motion of no confidence.

“We need a clean and strong government... We support a democratic solution: either Rajoy calls elections or there is a censure in parliament, " said Albert Rivera, head of Ciudadanos

That could cause a headache for Rajoy, who leads a minority administration.

The socialist PSOE government holds 84 seats in Spain's 350-seat parliament and has support from the Podemos party with 67 seats.

REUTERS/Susana Vera

With support from the main two Catalan pro-independence parties, it would still be short of the 176 votes needed to pass the motion.

Arguing the challenge against him was "nonsense," Rajoy said he would fight off the no-confidence vote and serve until the end of his term in 2020.

"This goes against the political stability that our country needs and it goes against the economic recovery. It is bad for Spain," he told a news conference on Friday.