Spanish PM attacked over failed £2m bid for an American medal

Jose Maria Aznar, the former Spanish prime minister who staunchly supported the US-led war in Iraq, is under investigation for allegedly using public money in a failed lobbying effort for a US Congressional Gold Medal.

Against the recommendation of state prosecutors, Spain's national court of financial accounting, the Tribunal de Cuentas, has agreed to look into allegations that Mr Aznar, often mocked in Spain as the "skirt dog" of the former US president George Bush hired an American lawyer to make his case to legislators for the medal.

According to the court documents, Mr Aznar used an "emergency" procedure to quickly authorise €2.3m (£2m) in payments to the lawyer, Piper Rudnick, whose duties included pushing for Spanish interests on trade issues and the medal. The association that brought the suit, Pre-eminence of Law, demands that Mr Aznar reimburse the state for part of the fees related to the medal bid.

The Nevada congressman who spearheaded the medal campaign, Jim Gibbons, could not muster enough votes for Mr Aznar despite a PR blitz that included a speech by Mr Aznar to a joint session of Congress in 2004.

In his eight-year tenure, Mr Aznar had made US relations the centrepiece of his foreign policy. His supporters had hoped the medal would have crowned his legacy (and launched him on the speaker's circuit when he stepped down from office in 2004).

But for Spain's multiple opposition parties, the medal bid was one of a string of symbolic insults that began with a photograph of the former prime minister lounging with his Texan counterpart, both with feet up, while millions of Spaniards protested against the war in Iraq.

"Aznar's need for people to honour him is lamentable," said a representative of the Basque Nationalist Party, Margarita Uria, when news of the medal lobby payments first emerged.

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