Spain's interior minister is facing calls to quit four days before general elections. A leaked tape showed him discussing with an anti-fraud official how to discredit Catalonia's pro-independence parties.
In the conversation, published online by Publico, Jorge Fernandez Diaz (pictured above) and the head of Catalonia's anti-fraud office, Daniel de Alfonso, discuss possible investigations that could be launched against pro-independence politicians in the region.
Alfonso allegedly lays out several leads for possible offences committed by various pro-independence politicians or their relatives, adding that they are all "weak."
The revelations come before Sunday's elections, with Diaz's conservative Popular Party (PP) expected to win, though without the absolute majority it needs. The elections are the second in six months, after polls in December resulted in a hung parliament. The parties failed to agree on a coalition government, forcing fresh elections.
Police unions and several opponents of the PP have demanded his resignation. Pedro Sanchez, head of the Socialist party, accused him of "using the state apparatus to fight against his political rivals and not to fight against corruption within his own party."
The pro-independence head of the regional government of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, also called on the minister to step down.
"We have an interior minister, who should be protecting us all, apparently using his post to investigate political rivals," Pablo Iglesias, head of the anti-austerity Podemos party, told public broadcaster TVE. "I think this should trigger an immediate resignation."
The leaders of the Catalan parties in question, Convergencia and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, also called for Diaz, who is from Catalonia and opposes its independence, to resign.
Hundreds of people, many waving yellow- and red-striped Catalan independence flags, demonstrated outside the office of the delegation of Spain's central government in Barcelona on Wednesday night.
Madrid has long been at odds with Catalonia's separatist politicians over a pro-independence drive in the wealthy Spanish region.
Meanwhile, acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy came to Diaz's defense, saying he had given a "clear" explanation. "As we're four days before the end of the campaign, someone is trying to take advantage and fish in troubled waters to see what comes out," he said.
Diaz fights back
Diaz has said the leak is a conspiracy, although admitted the 2014 meeting had taken place. "I remember having had this meeting, but as for the content of these conversations, I remember the general gist, which was to meet a magistrate that heads up the anti-fraud office of the regional government, whose mission is to fight fraud and corruption," he told Spanish radio.
"To claim that an interior minister is conspiring against members of Catalonia's government is surreal," he said, adding that police had been asked to investigate exactly how the conversation was recorded and leaked.
Diaz said he wanted an investigation into how Publico had obtained the recordings. "When a conversation is leaked two years after, there is a purpose. What they want is to politically destroy the adversary," he said.
Publico published another conversation later on Wednesday where Diaz appears to say he could "intervene with the public prosecutor" to request they start an investigation that could be leaked to the press.
jbh/bk (AFP, Reuters)