Spain: PM defends party despite new corruption arrests

Spain's acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Wednesday he sees no reason why the arrest of 24 people in a new corruption scandal affecting his conservative Popular Party should damage his efforts to form a new government following last month's inconclusive elections.

Myriad investigations into alleged corruption scandals in recent years are blamed for the party's plunge from a majority in the 350-seat Spanish Parliament to a minority of 123 seats in the Dec. 20 elections.

Rajoy told Telecinco television the party was fighting corruption and had reacted responsibly in removing members of the party who were arrested Tuesday. He denied the party was under investigation.

The 24, including several former Popular Party local government officials, were arrested in the eastern Valencia region as part of a probe into illegal commissions for public contracts.

Rajoy spoke as King Felipe VI began another round of talks with party leaders to try to find one capable of getting enough parliamentary support to form a new government. Rajoy turned down a petition by the king last week, saying he didn't have sufficient support in Parliament at the time.

Rajoy's only possible partner for the moment, the anti-corruption centrist Ciudadanos party, said the arrests would influence the talks.

The raids brought to four the number of corruption scandals involving the Popular Party in the last two weeks alone.

The Berlin-based Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index said Wednesday that Spain had fallen from rank 37 to 36 in its latest list.

The group said the situation in Spain, as well as some other countries, was "very worrying."

It included Spain as a place "where there was once hope for positive change. Now we're seeing corruption grow."

The index is based on expert opinions of public sector corruption.


Associate Press writer David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.