Spanish minister resigns over Panama Papers

SPAIN’S acting Minister of Industry, Energy and Tourism stepped down early on Friday April 15 following revelations that he maintained offshore companies based in tax havens during his time as mayor of Las Palmas.

Jose Manuel Soria will leave office with immediate effect, and will also lose his positions as congressional deputy and Popular Party (PP) leader in the Canary Islands.

“Following a conversation with the prime minister, I conveyed my irrevocable decision to resign from the functions that I was tasked with since December 21 as minister of industry, energy and tourism,” his official resignation statement read.

The scandal came to light with the release of the Panama Papers earlier this month, when Soria’s name appeared in connection with Mechanical Trading limited, which was itself the major shareholder in UK Oceanic Lines, of which he has now admitted he was chairman.

Initial reports on Monday April 11 suggested that he had only held the position for two months in 1992, and that the firm was wound up before he entered politics in 1995.

A day later, it became known that he had in fact been company secretary from 1991-1997.

In an increasingly humiliating series of events, the embattled minister chose to defend himself on live television, insisting: “It is completely false that I had a relationship with any company, business or function based in Panama, in the Bahamas or in any other tax haven.”

The final nail in the coffin came on Thursday April 14, with the release of documents showing that Soria ran a second, Jersey-based company with his brother until 2002.

Naturally, he failed to refer to the most recent allegations in his statement, stating only that he has taken the decision to resign “in relation to explanations of my business activities before my entry into politics in 1995,” based on “the lack of precise information over events that took place over 20 years ago,” and “out of consideration for the evident harm that this situation is causing to the government of Spain, the Popular Party, my fellow party members and voters.”

The news arrives at the end of a challenging week for the PP during which a number of prominent party associates, including ex-Banesto chief Mario Conde, former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and Mayor of Granada Joseph Torres Hurtado, have been arrested or charged in connection with their allegedly furtive financial dealings.

As appears to be standard when issues of corruption in Spanish government are raised, senior PP politicians have been completely mute on the issue, with the prime minister’s office releasing only a short statement disclosing that the Industry minister would not be attending Friday’s cabinet meeting.

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