Spain prosecutor asks court to throw out corruption case against PM Sanchez's wife

Spain's Sanchez suspends public duties to 'reflect' on future

By David Latona

MADRID (Reuters) -Prosecutors in Spain asked a court on Thursday to throw out a corruption case against Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's wife that has prompted him to announce he is considering resigning.

Madrid's prosecuting authority said it was appealing Wednesday's decision by a city court to look into a private complaint laid by anti-corruption activists against Begona Gomez over alleged influence peddling and business corruption.

The appeal will be heard by a separate court and could take months, and the judge's investigation into Gomez is sealed in the meantime.

Sanchez, who secured another term for his Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) last year as leader of a minority coalition government, told citizens in a letter on Wednesday he was taking a five-day break from public duties and would announce his decision to stay or quit on April 29.

He forcefully denied the allegations against his wife and said the case was part of a campaign of "unprecedented slander and harassment from the right and far right". Gomez has not addressed the allegations in public.

The anti-graft group behind the complaint, Manos Limpias (Clean Hands), said earlier on Thursday it had based its suit on media reports and could not vouch for their veracity.

The group's head, Miguel Bernad, said in a statement on Facebook the group had compiled and passed the reports to a judge out of "civic duty", and denied that the action was politically motivated. Bernad has links to the far right.

If Sanchez does resign it would lead to either a new candidate standing for a vote in the lower house or a snap election in the summer. Sanchez could also submit himself to a confidence vote to reinforce his leadership.

Since July, Sanchez has relied on a patchwork of smaller parties to informally support the government, including Catalan and Basque separatists.

In particular his deals with Catalan parties have enraged opposition parties along with a significant part of the populace, sent relations between rival parties to a near-all time low and generated a series of tit-for-tat impropriety claims played out in the media.


High-ranking Socialist Party and government officials rallied behind Sanchez on Thursday, flooding the airwaves to denounce what they called an increasingly toxic political climate.

Yolanda Diaz, leader of Sanchez's leftist coalition partner Sumar, said the prime minister's controversial move sought to "reinforce our democracy".

The opposition said Sanchez was irresponsible to sidestep his position and accused him of bringing the country into international disrepute.

The head of government "cannot throw a teenager's tantrum so that people beg him not to go and not to be upset", said the leader of the conservative Popular Party, Alberto Nunez Feijoo.

Sanchez's move comes as the Socialists are facing two sets of important elections. Opinion polls show they are favoured to win an election in May in Catalonia, ruled by separatist parties for the past decade.

In the June European Parliamentary elections, Spain's Socialists are expected to be a bulwark against advancing conservative forces.

On Wednesday night, Carles Puigdemont, who heads the hardline Catalan separatist Junts party, suggested Sanchez should submit to a confidence vote.

On Thursday, the more moderate ERC signaled it would back Sanchez if he were to call such a vote. The leader of the Basque Nationalist Party, Andoni Ortuzar, said a confidence vote would be the "simplest solution".

Ignacio Molina, social scientist at Madrid's Carlos III University, said Sanchez delayed a decision on his future to mobilise his base and to reinforce the support of other parties who need to see fulfilled the promises Sanchez has made in return for their backing.

"Many of them have a lot to lose if the government is derailed and a right-wing government takes over," he said.

Political analyst Miguel Murado said Sanchez would "certainly" win a confidence vote, using it to garner support and sympathy to boost his position.

(Reporting by David Latona, Emma Pinedo, Belén Carreño, Elena Rodriguez, and Corina PonsWriting by David Latona and Aislinn LaingEditing by Frances Kerry)