Spanish Minister Under Pressure as Leak Suggests Smear Campaign

  • Interior minister recorded asking for evidence against rivals
  • Country holds general election on Sunday with voters divided

Spain’s acting interior minister, Jorge Fernandez Diaz, is facing calls to resign after a series of leaked recordings showed him asking a top anti-fraud official for information to discredit political rivals in Catalonia.

The audio files published by Publico news site as Spaniards gear up for a general election on Sunday appear to show Fernandez Diaz quizzing the head of the Catalan anti-fraud agency for evidence of corruption involving the region’s two main political parties, Convergencia and the Catalan Republican Left, as well as any other details that could damage their leaders. The conversation, according to Publico, was taped back in 2014 when the region held a disputed referendum on independence from Spain.

Fernandez Diaz, who’s running on the incumbent People’s Party ticket for Barcelona, denied any wrongdoing in an interview with Cadena Cope radio. He said the recordings had been taken out of context to damage the government’s reputation ahead of the June 26 ballot and it was “offensive” to think a minister would order officials to concoct evidence for political motives.

Spaniards are heading to the polls for the second time in six months with the PP on track to remain the biggest group, but way short of a majority. Since taking power in 2011, the PP has been damaged by multiple corruption scandals involving top officials the party’s main rivals have called on the 61-year-old Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to step aside to regenerate trust in the institutions. Rajoy denies any wrongdoing.

Oriol Junqueras, the leader of the Republican Left and vice president of Catalonia, called for Fernandez Diaz to resign on his Twitter feed, as did Gabriel Rufian, a lawmaker in the national parliament.

Rajoy told Onda Cero radio he only found out about the conversations between Fernandez Diaz and the Catalan anti-fraud chief after they were published by the media, insisting he was unaware such an agency existed or who was the person in charge. Rajoy said his government has never used or leaked investigations into possible criminal activity to hurt rivals. “I can guarantee you that,” he said.

Fernandez Diaz, who is himself from Catalonia and a long-time opponent of the separatist cause, has faced a string of allegations from Catalan officials that he used his powers as interior minister to undermine political opponents.

Then-Catalan President Artur Mas last year accused the central government of organizing “stitch-ups” against separatists ahead of a regional election. The former mayor of Barcelona, Xavier Trias, in 2014 said the interior minister was behind incorrect newspaper reports that he had a Swiss bank account. Fernandez Diaz denied those allegations at the time.

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