In Spain, slow justice favors Rajoy

Tue Feb 5, 2013 10:36am EST
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By Fiona Ortiz

MADRID (Reuters) - The tortuous procedures of the Spanish court system and a weak political opposition mean corruption allegations are unlikely to force Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy from office.

Uproar in the media and some street protests have helped raise doubts among investors on the government's future, pushing its borrowing costs back up at a time when its priority has been to save money and pay off debts to stave off insolvency.

But while renewed economic difficulties may add to Rajoy's problems, a reluctance in opponents to probe funding practices common to all parties, doubt that payments however dubious were formally illegal, and the chronic backlog in Spain's courts, all mean the prime minister has little to fear from the prosecutors.

Rajoy, 57, has flatly denied doing anything wrong.

And a member of parliament for his Popular Party summed up a sanguine mood in the PP, voicing confidence delays would stifle the problem: "Beyond all the political noise, I don't think this will cause instability for the government or the party," he said. "It's an issue that won't have any quick conclusion."

Investment analyst Alastair Newton at Nomura in London also saw little urgent threat to government stability. "Furthermore," he wrote in a research note on Tuesday, "If Spanish prosecutors were to decide that there is a case to answer, it is likely to take some years to prove, or otherwise, any wrongdoing."

Fernando Jimenez a political scientist and corruption expert at the University of Murcia, noted dozens of corruption cases involving all major parties had been dragging through the courts for years: "Everyone knows there are very few convictions in corruption cases, so you get this sense of impunity," he said.

Last month, a 14-year investigation into whether a Catalan party siphoned off EU funds ended in a plea bargain and a fine.   Continued...

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy addresses a news conference following talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Chancellery in Berlin February 4, 2013. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch