June 22, 2016 1:28 pm

Spanish government rocked by leaked recordings

Tobias Buck in Madrid

Jorge Fernández Díaz has ordered an investigation into the source of the leaks at his interior ministry office©AFP

Jorge Fernández Díaz has ordered an investigation into the source of the leaks at his interior ministry office

Four days ahead of a general election, the Spanish government has been rocked by a leak of recordings in which the interior minister appears to encourage investigations against political opponents in Catalonia.

The recordings date from 2014 and were published on the Público news site late on Tuesday. They capture a conversation in which Jorge Fernández Díaz and Daniel de Alfonso, head of the Catalan anti-fraud office, discuss progress of politically sensitive investigations.

At various points in the conversation, the minister makes clear his particular interest in cases that link back to prominent Catalan pro-independence politicians, and asks for a personal copy of the relevant files.

On Wednesday Mr Fernández Díaz denied any wrongdoing but he faced a barrage of calls from opposition leaders and the Catalan government to resign immediately.

The leak raises questions about the extent of ties between politicians and law enforcement officials — a recurrent theme in recent Spanish history — and about the government’s ability to bend police and judicial investigations to its will.

At the same time, the scandal is certain to prompt concerns about the capacity of top government officials to protect themselves against illicit wiretaps and recordings. Mr Fernández Díaz told the press he had no idea who taped the conversation in his private office at the interior ministry, arguably one of the most sensitive locations in the government apparatus.

He brushed off the accusation of a conspiracy against Catalan politicians, saying: “The only conspiracy here relates to who made the recording and who released it a few days before the election.” The minister described himself and the Catalan anti-fraud chief as the victims of the affair, and said he had ordered a police inquiry to establish who made the recording and leaked it.

His stance met little sympathy in Catalonia and among opposition leaders, who accused Mr Fernández Díaz of plotting against his opponents. Pablo Iglesias, leader of the leftwing Unidos Podemos alliance, said: “I have listened to the recordings and what we have is a minister who is apparently using his office and his resources to investigate political rivals.”

Carles Puigdemont, president of the Catalan region, called on the minister to resign. He said: “We always had the suspicion but now it is clear that there has been a strategy of a dirty war.”

The scandal broke in the final days of an intense political campaign leading up to Sunday’s general election. Mr Fernández Díaz is a senior member of the ruling Popular party, which is widely tipped to emerge as the biggest bloc in parliament once again. Recent polls suggest, however, that the PP will win no more than 30 per cent of the vote, meaning it will have to find coalition partners to ensure the re-election of Mariano Rajoy as prime minister.