MADRID -- At a special session of parliament on Thursday, Spanish Prime Minister
Rajoy struck a sometimes combative tone in the nearly six-hour debate, which he had hastily called during a vacation period amid threats by opposition leaders to introduce a censure motion against him. The ruling conservatives have a large enough majority to likely stay in power, but Rajoy was nevertheless under pressure to answer bribery allegations that have been dogging his party and distracting from efforts toward economic recovery.
The allegations involve the party's former treasurer, Luis Barcenas, who was jailed in June in a corruption investigation. Prosecutors say he hid more than $60 million in Swiss bank accounts. He awaits trial on tax fraud and corruption charges, which he denies.
Barcenas left his job in 2009 but remained on the party's payroll until the scandal broke this year.
"I made a mistake by maintaining my confidence in someone we now know did not deserve it," Rajoy told lawmakers, some of whom booed when he first spoke Barcenas' name. "He tricked me … I was wrong, and I'm sorry about it, but that's it."
Barcenas has testified that he ran a secret slush fund for Spain's center-right Popular Party, through which illegal donations from construction companies were funneled to top politicians.
He has said that he personally handed Rajoy envelopes stuffed with tens of thousands of dollars worth of cash payments over several years. Excerpts of accounting ledgers that purportedly list those payments have been published by Spanish newspapers and handed over to prosecutors.
Rajoy denies any wrongdoing. He told lawmakers Thursday that he has paid all his taxes and declared all his income.
"I can tell you that what Mr. Barcenas says is not true, and from here on, it's up to the judge," Rajoy said. "This is a parliamentary chamber and not a courthouse."
The prime minister delivered a prepared statement for more than an hour before yielding the podium to opposition leaders who repeatedly called for his resignation.
"You have harmed Spain," said Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, leader of the main opposition Socialist party. "For this, Mr. Rajoy, I ask you to go."