THE former treasurer of Spain’s ruling party — at the heart of a corruption scandal that has politically damaged Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy — appeared in court on Monday for questioning about millions of euros he deposited in Swiss accounts.

Luis Barcenas is accused of using his position to take bribes, evade taxes by hiding the proceeds in Switzerland and launder money through shell companies, charges carrying prison sentences of up to six years and fines.

The long-running high court investigation of Mr Barcenas and a graft case involving the son-in-law of Spain’s king have enraged Spaniards at a time when deep recession has pushed unemployment to 26% and the government has slashed public spending.

A small group of protesters joined dozens of reporters in front of the court in central Madrid after Mr Barcenas entered for the closed-door hearing.

"They are lying to us, and worse than that, scorning us.… Enough is enough, we need some accountability," said Ana, a civil servant from Madrid who declined to give her last name.

Prosecutors asked high court examining magistrate Pablo Ruz to release Mr Barcenas on bail and restrict his movements. He went skiing in Canada recently, according to media reports.

In Spain’s legal system, lengthy pretrial investigations are carried out by examining magistrates such as Mr Ruz. A trial could be months or years away.

Mr Barcenas left the centre-right People’s Party (PP) in 2009 after he was charged with taking money from companies that overcharged PP mayors to put on events, then shared the extra profit with the politicians.

Public interest in the case had largely disappeared until last month, when Mr Ruz’s probe revealed that Mr Barcenas had Swiss bank accounts once worth €22m. The judge also found that Mr Barcenas applied last year for a tax amnesty, instigated by Mr Rajoy to bring millions of euros in foreign investments to Spain.

Then, El Pais newspaper published extracts from what it said were secret PP account books that Mr Barcenas kept for almost 20 years, showing cash donations from construction magnates that were distributed to Mr Rajoy and other party leaders.

Mr Barcenas has denied any wrongdoing and says the purported ledgers are forgeries. However, a police report showed that in December Mr Barcenas made a notarised statement saying he had records of years of donations made to the party as well as who got the proceeds. He says the money in the Swiss accounts is from legitimate activities.

Mr Rajoy has denied any wrongdoing, either personal or by the party. He has pledged an external audit of PP accounts and put years of his personal tax declarations on the office of the prime minister’s website.