1 Mar, 2024 @ 11:29
3 mins read

Partido Popular spokesperson denies any involvement in Covid mask scandal engulfing Spanish politics, despite being mentioned by the two main suspects in wiretaps

Doctors call for face masks to be made mandatory in hospitals across Spain amid surge in Covid and flu cases
Doctors call for face masks to be made mandatory in hospitals across Spain amid surge in Covid and flu cases

PHONE taps carried out by the Spanish Guardia Civil while investigating an alleged corruption scandal involving the sale of face masks during the worst months of the Covid-19 pandemic contain mentions of the parliamentary spokesperson for the conservative Partido Popular, Miguel Tellado.

A report from the police that has been leaked to the Spanish press shows that a meeting with Tellado was discussed by two of the main suspects in the scandal: Koldo Garcia, who was the former right-hand man of then-Socialist minister Jose Luis Abalos, and Juan Carlos Cueto, the businessman at the helm of the company that sold the masks. 

In their conversation on December 2, according to press reports, the pair discussed meeting with Tellado to discuss a lawsuit that the Balearic Islands’ regional government had filed against Cueto’s company, which was called Soluciones de Gestión (management solutions). 

The reason for the lawsuit was that the masks delivered by the company to the region were not of sufficient quality, prompting the then-Socialist-led administration to eventually take legal action. This lawsuit was then followed up by the PP administration that came into power last summer following elections.

In the wiretap report, Garcia tells Cueto that he had received a call moments earlier to meet with Tellado the next day to discuss the €3 million lawsuit.

Investidura_pedro_sanchez Jose_luis_abalos Pp_partido_popular Pablo_casado Politica_446716558_142350156_1706x960
Former Socialist Party minister Jose Luis Abalos.

On Thursday, Tellado ‘emphatically’ denied having held any meeting with Garcia nor having received a call to do so.

“I have never held a meeting with any member of the network,” he told reporters. 

The conversation between the two main suspects in the so-called ‘Koldo case’ came after they were both aware that there was a police investigation into their activities. 

Scandal for Socialists

Until this latest revelation, the scandal had been proving hugely damaging for the Socialist Party (PSOE) administration of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez given Koldo Garcia’s relationship with Jose Luis Abalos, who served as a minister from 2018 to 2021.

The Socialists on Monday called on Abalos to step down from his role as a lawmaker in Congress, but he refused to do so, claiming he had done nothing wrong, and instead joined the small so-called ‘mixed group’ of deputies in the lower house of parliament as an independent. 

The PSOE today confirmed, however, that it would call on the PP’s Miguel Tellado to appear at an investigation commission that will probe the scandal.

Meanwhile, in Congress the PP called for the immediate resignation of the speaker, Francina Armengol. 

Francina Armengol
Former Balearic Islands’ premier, now speaker in Congress, Francina Armengol in a file photo.

The demands came after it emerged that the PSOE politician, who was the Balearic regional premier at the time of the purchase of the masks from Cueto’s company, continued to do business with the firm even after it emerged that the personal protective equipment was defective and could not be used by healthcare professionals.

“Armengol cannot continue for a single minute longer at the helm of Congress,” said PP spokesperson Cuca Gamarra, in comments reported by Europa Press. “It’s nonsensical, because this lady is not qualified neither ethically, politically nor morally to continue a single day more.”

Other figures from the PP criticised Armengol for only having started legal proceedings against Soluciones de Gestión when her party had lost the elections and the conservatives were about to take office in the Balearics.

Twenty arrests

The Koldo case came to light on February 20, when 20 people – including Garcia and Ceuto – 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 for acting as an intermediary in the deal. He is thought to have invested the funds 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.

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:

Judge investigating Covid mask corruption scandal points to former Transport Minister Jose Luis Abalos as an ‘intermediary’

Opposition leader accuses Spain’s prime minister of covering up alleged Covid mask corruption scandal

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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