Spanish PM downplays graft trial witness summons

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was summoned on April 18, 2017 to testify as a witness in a graft trial involving former members of his party

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy downplayed Thursday a court's decision to summon him to testify as a witness in a graft trial, saying it was "his duty" to take the stand.

The National Court on Tuesday summoned Rajoy to testify as a witness in the so-called Gurtel trial, which centres on a vast bribery network allegedly involving former members of his conservative Popular Party (PP).

It is the first time in modern history that any Spanish prime minister has had to take the stand.

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.

"It is my duty. I will gladly reply to what they ask, and clarify what they want me to clarify," he told reporters in his first public comments on the court summons.

"It is everyone's duty to comply with the law and heed court decisions," he added.

A date for his testimony has yet to be set. It is not clear if Rajoy must testify in person or in written form.

The Gurtel case 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.

The PP was hit with more graft allegations on Wednesday as 12 people including the former head of the Madrid region were arrested under a separate probe into embezzlement of public money.

The probe continued Thursday as police searched the offices of construction of construction firm OHL and technology firm Indra, causing the value of shares in both firms to tumble.

The PP has been particularly hard hit by graft allegations, but its rival Socialists have also been affected.

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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