Star in Spain's ruling party defends photos with criminal

Alberto Nunez Feijoo, an up-and-coming political star within Spain's ruling party, on Monday defended a series of photographs depicting him with a convicted criminal, saying he had no knowledge of his acquaintance's background at the time of their friendship.

The 1995-1996 photographs of Feijoo, since 2009 the leader of Spain's northwestern Galicia region and seen as one of the potential successors to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, and Marcial Dorado were published by leading newspaper El Pais at the weekend.

The pictures show the two men soaking in the sun onboard a boat as well as them getting out of a car together. According to local media, Dorado is currently serving a 14-year prison sentence for drug trafficking.

"When I knew him, I knew nothing of his past, nor his activities," Feijoo, of the governing Popular Party (PP), said during a press conference called to explain the photos after the opposition had demanded his resignation.

"I've always acted within the law," he said, adding that "there is neither a close and deep friendship, nor a direct relationship" between himself and Dorado anymore.

The pictures have whipped up a new media storm around the party whose credibility has already suffered a serious blow by the so-called Gurtel case, a business and political corruption scandal related to contract awards, allegedly reaching into its senior ranks.

"If I'd had the slightest doubt that I may have done something illegal during my professional career, as a civil servant or politician, I would clearly be in a delicate situation. That is not the case," he said.

Feijoo said he had informed Rajoy of the existence of the photographs and their planned publication and that the premier had asked him to explain the content and scope of them.