28 Feb, 2024 @ 14:11
3 mins read

Opposition leader accuses Spain’s prime minister of covering up alleged Covid mask corruption scandal, as former Transport Minister Jose Luis Abalos refuses to stand down

jose luis abalos
jose luis abalos

THE leader of Spain’s main opposition Partido Popular (PP), Alberto Nuñez Feijoo, used his platform in Congress on Wednesday to accuse Socialist Party (PSOE) Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez of having full knowledge of an alleged corruption scandal involving the purchase of masks during the Covid-19 pandemic

“You knew about it and you covered it up,” Feijoo railed at the PSOE leader today in Spain’s lower house of parliament, claiming that Sanchez was aware of the scandal ‘more than three years ago, at least’.

At the heart of the scandal, which is causing a major headache for the Sanchez-led administration, is Jose Luis Abalaos, a former transport minister from the PSOE. 

Abalos’s former assistant and right-hand man, Koldo Garcia Izaguirre, was arrested last week on accusations by anti-corruption prosecutors that he accepted payments while acting as an intermediary between the Spanish government and a company called Soluciones de Gestion y Apoyo a las Empresas SL. 

Garcia is accused of taking bungs after he assisted the company in its bid to win contracts to supply much-in-demand face masks to Adif, which is Spain’s state railway infrastructure company, as well as the country’s ports.

At the start of this week, the PSOE demanded that Abalos, who served as transport minister from 2018 to 2021, quit as a deputy in Congress. But the next day he refused to go, claiming he had done nothing wrong. 

jose luis abalos
Former Transport Minister Jose Luis Abalos.

While he remains a lawmaker, Abalos has stated that he will continue in Congress as an independent deputy in a bid to clear his name, joining what is known as the grupo mixto, or mixed group, and which is home to small parties such as left-wing Podemos. 

The PSOE has stated that it will start the procedure to expel Abalos from the party, according to news agency Reuters. 

Meanwhile, in Congress today, Prime Minister Sanchez responded to Feijoo’s accusations by saying that his ‘is a government that does not cover up corruption’.

“It’s a government that fights against corruption face to face, and it does so not with empty discourse as you do but with facts and with action, working with the justice system, with transparency and with accountability,” he said, in comments reported by Europa Press.

Sanchez was referring to an investigatory commission that will be created in Congress in order to investigate what is being referred to as the ‘Koldo case’. 

Alberto Nuñez Feijoo in Congress
Alberto Nuñez Feijoo in Congress. Photo: Juan Carlos Rojas / Cordon Press

Also on Wednesday, it emerged that the businessman alleged to be at the centre of the masks scandal, Juan Carlos Cueto, told the High Court judge investigating the scandal that his company was trying to help Spaniards by purchasing the personal protective equipment (PPE) and not take advantage of the situation for financial gain. 

According to legal sources, who were speaking to news agency Europa Press, Cueto cited a report from the consultancy KPMG that concluded that the sale price of the masks was in line with the market at the time and that there was scant economic margin from the deal.

The Koldo case will complicate matters further for Prime Minister Sanchez, who is governing in a minority along with leftist alliance Sumar, which is his junior coalition partner. The administration needs the support of smaller regional parties if it is to pass legislation in Congress, including the all-important budget. 

This arrangement is already under massive strain due to the demands of a pro-Catalan independence party, Junts pel Si, which is using the PSOE’s dependence on its votes to gain political advantage in its quest to secede from Spain. 

Twenty arrests 

The Koldo case came to light on February 20, when 20 people – including Koldo Garcia – were arrested by Spain’s Guardia Civil for their alleged involvement in the scandal. 

The company at the centre of the case had barely any economic activity until it won the contract for eight million masks at a cost of €20 million. 

Garcia is accused by prosecutors of having pocketed commissions of €1.5 million, which he is thought to have invested in the purchase of three apartments and several plots of land. 

In 2018, when Pedro Sanchez became prime minister thanks to a successful motion of no confidence in Congress, Garcia was hired as the right-hand man of the new transport minister, Jose Luis Abalos.

Spain's Pedro Sanchez blasts far-right parties during speech at European Parliament as he accuses Vox of stirring up Francoism
Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in a file photo. Cordon Press image

He was later appointed a member of the management board of Renfe Mercancias, the state-owned rail freight company, a decision that caused outrage at the time among the political opposition given his close links to the Transport Ministry. 

Aged 54, Garcia has also worked as a security guard and a bodyguard, according to Spanish daily El Confidencial

In June 2011, he was ordered by a court in Navarra to pay a €900 fine after he assaulted a 16-year-old boy the day that Spain won the World Cup in 2010. 

He was also given a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence for his involvement in a fight back in 1991, but he was granted a pardon by the first government of former PP Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. 

Garcia’s association with the Sanchez administration came to an end in 2021 when Abalos was fired as transport minister and became a regular lawmaker in Congress, the role from which he is now refusing to quit. 

Read more:

Former right-hand man of Socialist transport minister detained in Spain over allegations of illegal commissions from Covid masks

Simon Hunter

Simon Hunter has been living in Madrid since the year 2000 and has worked as a journalist and translator practically since he arrived. For 16 years he was at the English Edition of Spanish daily EL PAÍS, editing the site from 2014 to 2022, and is currently one of the Spain reporters at The Times. He is also a voice actor, and can be heard telling passengers to "mind the gap" on Spain's AVLO high-speed trains.

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