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Aznar Withholds Secret Madrid Bombing Intelligence Documents

London Guardian | July 23 2004

Former Spanish prime minister José María Aznar yesterday denied allegations that he was illegally holding on to secret intelligence reports and that his government paid a Washington lobbyist firm to help him secure a Congressional Gold Medal.

The allegations came as Mr Aznar, whose party was thrown out of office in March in an election in which he did not stand, battles to protect a reputation battered by events surrounding the March 11 train bombings that killed 191 people in Madrid.

Mr Aznar, who is in Latin America promoting an autobiography, has so far failed to reply to a request from Spain's Centre for National Intelligence (CNI) that he return any documents he may still have that refer to the March 11 bombings.

Mr Aznar suggested to a radio interviewer in Colombia earlier this week that he was still in possession of the CNI reports handed to him after the attacks that were followed three days later by his party being voted out of office.

"I have them because I was the prime minister," he told the radio station.

The governing Socialist party yesterday accused him of "unlawful expropriation" while the People's party said it did not know whether he still had the secret documents.

"I certainly haven't seen them at home," Mr Aznar's wife, Madrid city councillor Ana Botella, told journalists.

People's party spokesman Eduardo Zaplana said Mr Aznar would answer the accusations when he returned to Spain tomorrow .

The row has coincided with the leaking of secret documents about the March bomb ings to the Spanish press. "Now we know who has been leaking them," said Socialist party spokesman José Blanco, referring to Mr Aznar.

Mr Zaplana, meanwhile, blamed the Socialist government of the prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, for the leaks.

These have lifted the lid on several secret operations, including the phone-tapping of Arnaldo Otegi, a Basque separatist leader said to be close to Eta.

A special parliamentary investigation is trying to determine whether Mr Aznar's government should be blamed for misleading people into believing that the separatist group Eta carried out the Madrid bombings - a scenario seen as potentially beneficial to the People's party election hopes.

Mr Aznar's former director of police Agustin Diaz de Mera, now a People's party MEP, yesterday told the investigating committee he still believed there could be a "sinister meeting point" between Eta and Islamists.

Previous police witnesses had denied any such connection.

The allegations that Mr Aznar's government paid Washington lobbyists Piper Rudnick to help make sure he got the Congressional Gold Medal were made by the left-leaning radio station Cadena Ser, which published documents on its internet site backing its claims.

The documents are alleged to show that getting the support of members of Congress for the medal was part of Piper Rudnick's remit, as part of a contract signed in December that would see the firm paid $2m (£1.1m) over 20 months.