Madrid.—The former treasurer of Spain's ruling party, at the heart of a corruption scandal that has politically damaged Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, appeared in court for questioning yesterday about millions of euros he deposited in Swiss accounts.

Luis Barcenas is accused of using his position to take bribes, evade taxes by hiding the proceeds in Switzerland and launder money through shell companies, charges that carry prison sentences of up to six years and fines.

The long-running High Court investigation of Barcenas and a graft case involving the son-in-law of Spain's king have enraged Spaniards at a time when deep recession has pushed unemployment to 26 percent and the government has slashed public spending. “I'm looking forward to making my statement,” Barcenas told reporters as he left his house yesterday morning.
A small group of protesters joined dozens of reporters in front of the court building in central Madrid after Barcenas entered for the closed-door hearing. “They are lying to us, and worse than that, scorning us... Enough is enough, we need some accountability,” said Ana, 59, a civil servant from Madrid who declined to give her last name.

Prosecutors asked High Court Examining Magistrate Pablo Ruz to put Barcenas, 55, on bail and restrict his movements. Barcenas, an avid mountaineer who once scaled Everest, went skiing in Canada two weeks ago, according to media reports.

Barcenas's lawyer declined to comment on those reports.
In Spain's legal system, lengthy pre-trial investigations are carried out by examining magistrates such as Ruz. A trial could still be months or years away for Barcenas.

TROUBLE AT THE TOP
Barcenas left the centre-right People's Party (PP) in 2009 after he was charged with taking money from companies that overcharged PP mayors to put on events, such as campaign rallies, then shared the extra profit with the politicians.

Public interest in the case had largely disappeared until January, when Ruz's probe revealed that Barcenas had Swiss bank accounts once worth as much as 22 million euros ($30 million).

The High Court judge also found that Barcenas applied last year for a tax amnesty, instigated by Rajoy to try to boost revenue, to bring millions of euros in off-shore investments back to Spain. Then, El Pais newspaper published extracts from what it said were secret PP account books that Barcenas kept for almost 20 years, showing cash donations from construction magnates that were distributed to Rajoy and other party leaders.

Barcenas has denied any wrongdoing and says the purported ledgers are forgeries.
However, a police report that is part of Ruz's evidence and that was seen by Reuters, showed that in December Barcenas made a notarised statement saying he had records of years of donations made to the party as well as who got the proceeds.