Spanish PM called to testify in major graft trial

The so-called Gurtel trial centres on a vast bribery network allegedly involving former members of Rajoy's Popular Party (PP).

Mariano Rajoy, pictured in Madrid in February

"They have called him as witness," a spokesman for the National Court that deals with major corruption cases told AFP, adding that no date had been set yet for the hearing.

While Spain's 62-year-old leader is not accused of anything, his post as party chief since 2004 means he could provide valuable testimony.

The network allegedly saw companies shower former PP lawmakers and civil servants with bribes in exchange for contracts.

Altogether, 37 defendants face justice including two former party treasurers and businessman Francisco Correa, the alleged head of the network.

According to a confession published by Correa in online daily eldiario.es, companies would give him a commission of two to three percent on the value of public contracts.

After taking his share, he would allegedly give politicians involved in awarding contracts some of the money too.

He also claimed he gave money to Luis Barcenas, a man also on trial who was party manager from 1980s to 2008 and then treasurer for a year.

Party slush fund?

Further complicating matters, Barcenas claimed in 2013 that part of that money went into a secret party slush fund.

The fund is an ingredient of the current case but not the focus, as a separate trial on it is pending.

Barcenas was nevertheless questioned on the subject in January, and acknowledged there existed secret accounts in the PP, pointing to "financial resources that did not appear in official book-keeping."

But he said that rather than bribes, businessmen gave donations "generously" without expecting anything in return.

"I never received anything from Correa, not for me nor for the PP," he added, blasting the businessman's allegations as "nonsense".

When questioned by a judge in 2013, Barcenas had also claimed he had given Rajoy envelopes of cash.

But in his January hearing, he defended Rajoy, saying he had given orders not to use Correa's companies anymore in 2003, "because he was told that Correa was engaged in illegal activities."

Corruption is a major issue in Spain, with the PP, rival Socialists and regional politicians hit by scandals.

Such is public anger over the issue that many voters have flocked to two relatively new parties -- the far-left Podemos and the centre-right Ciudadanos.

As a result, although the PP still won a general election last year, it failed to retain the absolute majority it won in 2011, and Rajoy now heads a minority government.

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