Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy has admitted to MPs that he made a “mistake” in trusting disgraced former colleague Luis Barcenas.
Mariano Rajoy also told MPs that claims he was corrupt were “lies and manipulations”, and defied calls for his resignation.
He is appearing in parliament to answer claims over illegal payments from a slush fund run by the Popular Party’s ex-treasurer, Luis Barcenas.
The claims sparked widespread anger and anti-government protests.
Revelations of apparent corruption have touched a nerve in Spain, hit by a double-dip recession and high unemployment.
Clashes erupted between anti-government protesters and police in mid-July after more than 1,000 people gathered outside the Partido Popular (Popular Party, PP) headquarters calling on the government to quit.
Mariano Rajoy appeared before MPs after threats of a no-confidence vote.
In opening remarks, he said he was appearing to rebuff the “lies, manipulations and malicious insinuations encouraged by certain political leaders” over the scandal.
Mariano Rajoy suggested that the Spanish economy was beginning to recover from years of crisis, and expressed concern that a continued focus on the scandal was damaging Spain’s image.
For the first time, he admitted making a mistake by putting trust “in someone who we now know did not deserve it”. But he denied “committing the criminal offence of covering up for someone who is alleged to be guilty”.
Mariano Rajoy has admitted to MPs that he made a “mistake” in trusting disgraced former colleague Luis Barcenas
Luis Barcenas is in custody while being investigated over other corruption allegations.
Mariano Rajoy repeated that he would not resign, and concluded by saying a package of measures would be implemented to strengthen anti-corruption safeguards.
In response, the leader of the country’s main opposition Socialist Party, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, said Mariano Rajoy was not in the chamber to debate the state of the Spanish economy.
He said it was Mariano Rajoy’s “resistance” to answering parliament that was causing damage to Spain, and said the PP had won elections over 20 years on the back of a system of illegal financing.
Even if Mariano Rajoy did not respect parliament, he said, “he should respect the intelligence of Spaniards”.
“You must go, Mr. Rajoy,” he said.
Each parliamentary group will have 10 minutes to ask questions and set out its own position, with individual deputies also allowed to put a limited number of questions.
On Wednesday, the deputy leader of the opposition Socialists, Elena Valenciano, said her party’s aim was “two-fold – that the prime minister tell the truth and that he quit his post.
“If we don’t get that [on Thursday], we will keep insisting and fighting for it.”
The scandal originated in a 2009 judicial investigation into corrupt payments involving PP members.
In January this year, El Pais newspaper published an alleged list of illegal payments within the party.
The list was signed off by Luis Barcenas, who is currently in custody on corruption and tax fraud charges, with his role in the scandal still being investigated.
He originally denied allegations that he wrote documents, but later admitted they were in his handwriting.
The former party treasurer now says he made numerous bonus payments – in cash – to Mariano Rajoy and other senior party members, out of the party slush fund of donations by businesses.
Mariano Rajoy and other PP members have repeatedly denied that they received illegal payments and have accused Luis Barcenas of trying to blackmail them.
The PP’s deputy leader, Maria Dolores de Cospedal, has been summoned to appear before investigating judge Pablo Ruz on August 14.
Calls for Mariano Rajoy to resign intensified after private text messages published by El Mundo newspaper suggested that he had friendly ties to Luis Barcenas from May 2011 to March 2013.
Mariano Rajoy admitted sending messages of support to Luis Barcenas.
However, throughout the scandal, Mariano Rajoy has at no point given any indication he would resign.
The PP was handed a clear mandate by Spanish voters at the end of 2011 and as a result Mariano Rajoy and his party enjoy a clear majority in parliament.
The corruption allegations coincide with Spain’s worst economic crisis for decades, and have threatened to destabilize government attempts to shore up public finances and bring the recession to an end.
Janez Jansa, the two-time prime minister of Slovenia, has been convicted of corruption and sentenced to two years in prison.
Janez Jansa was accused of soliciting bribes as part of a defense deal. He said the charges were politically motivated and that he would appeal.
The former prime minister was forced to quit the office in March amid protests over corruption and recession.
Slovenia, often seen as the most successful of the former Yugoslav states, faces severe economic problems.
There has been repeated speculation that it may become the latest eurozone member to have to ask for a bailout.
The District Court in Ljubljana ruled on Wednesday that Janez Jansa and two others had sought about 2 million euros in commission from a Finnish firm, Patria, in order to help it win a military supply contract in 2006.
Under the 278 million-euro deal, Patria was to supply Slovenia with 135 armored personnel carriers. The deal was scrapped after the corruption allegations surfaced.
Janez Jansa, the two-time prime minister of Slovenia, has been convicted of corruption and sentenced to two years in prison
The two other defendants were each sentenced to 22 months in prison. All three were also fined 37,000 euros each.
Prosecutions in connection with the case are also taking place in Finland.
Before the verdict was announced on Wednesday, Janez Jansa called the charges a farce and said that if he was found guilty, he would appeal against what he called a “political process”.
Janez Jansa was a prominent figure in Slovenia’s secession from Yugoslavia in 1991.
He was prime minister from November 2004 to November 2008, and again from February 2012 until March 2013, when his centre-right government lost a confidence motion in parliament after smaller parties left the coalition led by his Slovenian Democratic Party.
As well as facing allegations about corruption and tax irregularities, Janez Jansa’s government had been struggling to impose an austerity agenda amid one of the deepest recessions in the eurozone.
Pakistani Supreme Court has ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and 15 others over corruption allegations.
Raja Pervaiz Ashraf denies accepting bribes when approving power generation projects as minister for water and power in 2010.
Analysts say that the move is unlikely to lead to his immediate removal.
It comes as populist cleric Tahirul Qadri led thousands of protesters in Islamabad, demanding the resignation of the government.
Television images showed protesters celebrating and triumphantly applauding as news broke of the court’s order.
It may just be a coincidence – but to many observers the timing of the move bolsters allegations that the cleric is backed by elements of the judiciary and military.
In recent years Pakistan’s government, judiciary and powerful military have been at loggerheads.
Pakistani Supreme Court has ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and 15 others over corruption allegations
Raja Pervaiz Ashraf’s predecessor, Yousuf Raza Gilani, was forced out as prime minister last June after a court convicted him of contempt for failing to pursue another corruption case against the president.
Raja Pervaiz Ashraf was appointed in his place, but analysts predicted that his tenure would also be troubled.