Spain’s Leader Declares He Won’t Quit Over Wife’s Corruption Case

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of Spain declared on Monday that he would not resign, nearly a week after publicly raising the possibility in response to corruption allegations against his wife that he and other officials denounced as a smear campaign.

The decision by Mr. Sánchez, who has repeatedly astonished his supporters and frustrated his conservative critics with his knack for political survival, is a momentous one for him, his country and all of Europe.

Mr. Sánchez inspired anxiety, bewilderment and right-wing hopes last week when he responded to the opening of a judicial investigation into his wife by canceling his public schedule and issuing an emotional public letter. He wrote that harassment against his family had become intolerable and he was considering quitting.

But on Monday he walked back from the precipice. Spain’s public prosecutor’s office had already sought to have the complaint against his wife dismissed for lack of evidence.

“I’ve decided to continue with more strength,” Mr. Sánchez said in the highly anticipated speech on the steps of Moncloa Palace, the prime minister’s residence. He added that his government would “show the world how we can defend against the mudslinging.”

The trigger for the sudden crisis was the decision by a Spanish judge to entertain a complaint from Clean Hands, a group known for filing cases in court against politicians and other prominent Spaniards.

The group filed a complaint accusing Mr. Sánchez’s wife, Begoña Gómez, of influence peddling and corruption — citing as potential evidence online news reports that it has acknowledged could contain false information. The judge ordered a preliminary investigation based on those online media reports.

For now, Mr. Sánchez will remain as one of the most reliably progressive voices from the European stage at a time of rising populism and nationalism.

Mr. Sánchez, young, tall and photogenic, unexpectedly took power in June 2018 after he called for a no-confidence vote that brought down the conservative government amid a slush-fund scandal in the conservative Popular Party.

He then formed a government with the support of the leftist Unidas Podemos and regional separatist parties, which harbor hopes of breaking away from Madrid, and he immediately became a source of hope for liberals desperate for an international standard-bearer during a season of populist and hard-right victories across the continent.

Under his tenure, Spain has passed progressive legislation and its economy has improved. But by last year, he had become increasingly unpopular at home, with a reputation for reversals and political machinations. He called a snap election and brought a premature end to the country’s first coalition government since the return of democracy in the 1970s.

His conservative opponents seemed a shoo-in. But the move turned out to be a masterstroke. Despite winning fewer votes than the Popular Party, Mr. Sánchez had called the elections early enough to staunch the bleeding of supporters and prevented his center-right rivals and the far-right party Vox from winning a large enough margin to form a government. Instead, he cobbled together a governing coalition out of almost all the remaining political forces, including smaller and in some cases opposing parties.

In recent weeks he had overcome other domestic hurdles, including the passing of a highly disputed amnesty law that pleased, and kept in the fold, coalition partners who supported independence in the northern region of Catalonia. Mr. Sánchez, if anything, seemed to be settling in for his second term.

But then, after months of largely ignored news reports claiming that his wife and her associates benefited from her relationship with the prime minister, a self-described anti-graft group with a record of pursuing long-shot cases filed a complaint based on several of those critical articles to a Spanish judge.

On Wednesday, the judge agreed to investigate, Mr. Sánchez issued his emotional response, and the landscape of Spanish politics began to shake.

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