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article imageSpanish protest party Podemos faces first storm

By Michaela Cancela-Kieffer, Elodie Cuzin (AFP)     Feb 10, 2015 in World

Spanish protest party Podemos faced growing attacks Tuesday over alleged financial irregularities by a top leader who advised late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and other left-wing Latin American governments.

Podemos -- which is looking to use the Greek victory of its close ally Syriza to create momentum as Spain heads towards general elections at the end of the year -- has surged to the top of opinion polls since it was founded a year ago with promises to fight corruption and economic inequality.

Now one of its founders, political science professor Juan Carlos Monedero, finds himself embroiled in allegations of tax irregularities that forced him late Monday to publish his bank statements in an effort to silence critics.

Spanish daily El Pais reported January 21 that Monedero, 52, was paid around 425,000 euros ($480,000) by Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua at the end of 2013.

The newspaper said Monedero, who is close to Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, set up a firm to take payment of those funds, which allowed him to pay a lower corporate tax rate than would have to be applied to revenue declared as personal income.

Details of the affair have dominated headlines in a country where minimum wage is 758 euros per month, and one in four workers are unemployed.

Member of Podemos Juan Carlos Monedero (L) and Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias (R) at a meeting in Mad...
Member of Podemos Juan Carlos Monedero (L) and Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias (R) at a meeting in Madrid on November 15, 2014
Dani Pozo, AFP/File

The resulting scandal is the first to buffet the party that polls have regularly positioned in either first or second place in recent months.

Monedero -- who is responsible for drawing up Podemos' platform -- has never denied receiving the money.

He has said it represented payment for "no less than two years of work" as a consultant, and the money was used to fund a political talk show hosted by Iglesias that is broadcast over the Internet and cable TV.

- 'A fraudster' -

Monedero paid nearly 200,000 euros to tax authorities at the end of January, according to Spanish media reports.

The amount represented what his tax liabilities on earnings from consulting work for Latin American governments would have been had he declared them as personal income, rather than company revenues.

Podemos has not confirmed the amount involved, saying only that Monedero made "a voluntary complementary tax declaration" as part of his "desire for transparence."

The ruling Popular Party and the main opposition Socialists, who have both lost supporters to Podemos, depicted the move as an admission of guilt.

"If every Spaniard did what Monedero did, how would we pay for public services?" asked Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria.

Spain's anti-austerity party Podemos leader  Pablo Iglesias  during the closing rally in Madrid...
Spain's anti-austerity party Podemos leader, Pablo Iglesias, during the closing rally in Madrid on February 8, 2015
Pedro Armestre, AFP/File

The conservative Popular Party's spokesman in the Senate, Rafael Hernando, called Monedero "a fraudster."

The leader of the Socialists, Pedro Sanchez, called on Iglesias to oust Monedero from Podemos, calling his behaviour "immoral".

Sanchez also cast doubt on the amount of money paid to Monedero, saying in an interview with Telecinco television on Monday that international consulting work does not pay such high amounts.

At a giant January 31 rally in Madrid that drew tens of thousands of Podemos supporters, Iglesias warned the party would come under attack ahead regional elections in May and the year-end general election.

"They have no scruples and will use ministries and institutions that belong to the people to attack those who they dare not confront at the ballot box," he said during another party rally in Madrid on Sunday.

But the affair has raised doubts among some supporters.

"It's true that there was an irregularity. But we think it has been settled," said Jose Ignacio Garcia, a Podemos supporter from the southern city of Jerez de la Frontera.

Pablo Echenique, one of the party's five European parliamentarians, refused to comment on Monedero's case, saying only "we have to wait for him to explain himself.

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