Embattled Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy attempts to soothe irate public over corruption

This week, 51 public officials and business directors have been arrested over bribery and corruption allegations worth hundreds of millions of euros

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The Independent Online

Rising anger in Spain over the extent of seemingly endemic corruption in the country’s political system has showed no sign of abating, as even a routine parliamentary appearance by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy became a noisy discussion about a fresh series of bribery cases.

Corruption and backhanders have long formed part of Spain’s political scene. As such, a plethora of newspaper stories last week about misuse of credit cards to the tune of €15m (£11.8m) by 80 officials linked to a bank – all of them political appointees including the former Finance Minister Rodrigo Rato – felt depressingly normal.

On Sunday, Mr Rajoy insisted such cases were not representative of Spain, saying “a few minor events are not the same as 46 million people nor all of Spain”. The fact that Caja Madrid then merged with a series of saving banks to become Bankia – whose collapse in 2012 became the symbol of Spain’s financial woes, culminating in a €41bn bailout – did not figure in his comments.

But then on Monday, another, far bigger, corruption scandal broke, with 51 public officials and business directors arrested over bribery and corruption allegations worth hundreds of millions of euros. Among them was a former senior official from the Madrid branch of the ruling Partido Popular (PP). And Mr Rajoy, perhaps sensing Sunday’s attempt to calm troubled waters left him looking out of touch, changed his tune.

Since Monday Mr Rajoy has twice in 24 hours apologised for such cases to his fellow politicians. He has apologised only once before in parliament over a corruption case – in August 2013, concerning the appointment of PP’s former treasurer Luis Barcenas being investigated over illegal payments from a slush fund .

On Tuesday, speaking to the senate, the embattled Prime Minister said: “I understand and share fully the indignation of so many Spaniards at the accumulation of scandals.

“In the name of the People’s Party I want to apologise to all Spaniards for having appointed to positions for which they were not worthy those who would seem to have abused them.”

Then, on Wednesday, Mr Rajoy again said he was sorry about the cases – this time when an appearance to inform parliament about the relatively inoffensive subject of an EU council meeting skewed off course into a stormy political discussion about corruption.

“You are besieged by corruption,” the opposition leader Pedro Sanchez told Mr Rajoy before calling for “fewer apologies and more explanations”. Rosa Diez, the outspoken leader of the small, centrist, UPyD party, added: “Corruption is the Ebola of democracy.”

“Let’s not give the impression, because that is not the reality, of a country immersed in corruption – it’s not true,” Mr Rajoy told his fellow lawmakers, after reminding them of corruption cases in their own ranks. “Politics is a very noble activity... we are not worse than other professions.”

In their drive to regain the moral high ground, the PP said this week it has suspended all party members involved in the Bankia credit-card scandal, including Mr Rato. But so far the figure of Mr Rajoy himself, though, remains relatively politically unscathed.