FORMER Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy, ousted last week by his Socialist opponents, is quitting the leadership of his conservative People’s Party (PP) after it was rocked by a corruption scandal.

Rajoy said he would stand down once a new leader was elected at a succession conference.

He told his party: “The time has come for me to put an end to this story: PP must move forward under a new leadership.

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“It’s the best for PP and for me. And I believe that it’s the best for Spain as well. And that’s all that matters.”

Rajoy faced criticism for his handling of the Catalan crisis and the thuggery of Guardia Civil officers during the October independence referendum, which his government had declared illegal.

However, it was the scandal known as Gürtel that ultimately led to his downfall and the success of a no confidence motion by Socialist Party (PSOE) leader, now prime minister, Pedro Sánchez.

Among the leadership contenders are Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, his deputy as PM who was in charge of direct rule in Catalonia for seven months and María Dolores de Cospedal, PP secretary general and defence minister.

His announcement came as it emerged that Carles Puigdemont and three deposed Catalan ministers had filed a lawsuit with a Belgian court against Spanish supreme court judge Pablo Llarena – the bête noir of the independence movement.

Puigdemont, Meritxell Serret, Lluís Puig and Toni Comin claim their rights have been violated, including rights to an impartial and independent judge, a fair trial and the presumption of innocence.

Christophe Marchand, a lawyer for the exiled officials said yesterday that as a result, Llarena had been summoned by a magistrate in September.

Announcing the move, Puigdemont said: “We are not pursued by the judiciary, but by the ideology of a judge.”

Paul Monaghan, an observer at the indyref, tweeted: “In a major humiliation for the Spanish judicial system, a Belgian court has summoned Spanish judge Pablo Llarena to respond to allegations that he has ‘misused justice’ when filing international arrest warrants against @KRLS and others.”

Sanchez, meanwhile, is expected to reveal his cabinet today, with at least one minister raising eyebrows.

He had secured support from Basque and Catalan nationalist parties to overthrow Rajoy and said he wanted to open a dialogue with Catalonia. But his choice for the foreign affairs ministry is PSOE veteran and former European parliament president Josep Borrell, 71, who is hostile towards Catalan independence. He led his party in 1998 but had to resign a year later over a financial scandal involving two of his former co-workers when he was the deputy finance minister.