6 Mar, 2024 @ 12:11
3 mins read

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez defends government’s actions over ongoing Covid mask scandal 

SPAIN’S Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez sought to defend his government’s actions today, in the midst of the first corruption scandal to hit his government since he came to power back in 2018. 

Speaking informally on a plane to journalists covering his official visit to Brazil and Chile, Sanchez admitted that the so-called ‘Koldo case’, which relates to alleged kickbacks from government contracts to buy face masks during the worst months of the Covid-19 pandemic, was ‘serious’. 

However, he pointed to his party’s swift action to expel a former minister implicated in the case, Jose Luis Abalos, and attacked the main opposition Partido Popular (PP) for what he called a ‘disinformation campaign’.

jose luis abalos
Former transport minister Jose Luis Abalos.

Sanchez also defended the actions of the speaker of the Congress of Deputies, Francina Armengol. The Socialist politician has been the target of PP attacks in recent days due to her actions when she was regional premier of the Balearic Islands. 

Her administration purchased millions of euros worth of face masks from the company at the centre of the scandal, Soluciones de Gestión, only for the items received to be of a lower quality than promised and unsuitable for use by medical staff. 

On Monday, the PP described Armengol as an ‘alleged necessary collaborator’ in the ‘fraud’ being investigated by the Spanish authorities. 

“Armengol has my total support,” Sanchez told reporters from media outlets such as El Pais and Efe. “She has given explanations. Her administration sought to get back the money [for the masks],” he added, in reference to legal action begun by Armengol’s government three years after the items were received, and just as the PP was set to take power in the region. 

Sanchez also argued that the ‘Koldo case’ was an isolated incident, and slammed the PP for the many corruption cases that have come to light over recent decades. 

“This government has done a lot in politics to lead by example,” he told reporters. “There is no systemic corruption as there is with the PP.” 

Speaker in Congress Francina Armengol
Speaker in Congress Francina Armengol. © Alberto Gardin/ZUMA Press Wire

The prime minister, who governs in coalition with the leftist alliance Sumar, was speaking shortly after it emerged that current Transport Minister Oscar Puente had sacked the person who was in charge of buying masks from Soluciones de Gestion for use in Spain’s ports.

Alvaro Sanchez Manzanares, the general secretary of the State Ports company, was fired despite not having been arrested as part of the probe. Wiretaps of his conversations are, however, included in court documents relating to the investigation. 

“We are showing that we will act quickly if there are any cases [of corruption],” Sanchez said. “The PP cannot teach us any lessons about this, but we will act forcefully. With them, there was generalised corruption.”

Sanchez came to power after winning a motion of no confidence vote in 2018 against the PP’s then-prime minister, Mariano Rajoy. The motion was filed after a High Court ruling found that there was a system of illegal financing within the party. 

The ‘Koldo case’ 

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

The company at the centre of the case, Soluciones de Gestión (management solutions), had little to no activity before the pandemic. 

During the health emergency, however, it won a government contract to supply eight million masks at a cost of €20 million.

One of the key suspects in the case is Koldo Garcia, who was once the right-hand man of the former Socialist transport minister, Jose Luis Abalos.

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. 

Abalos has also been implicated in the scandal, although he has not so far been arrested or charged with any wrongdoing. 

He has defended his innocence since the story broke, and has held onto his job as a deputy in Congress despite being expelled from the Socialist Party, which called on him to quit last week. 

Instead of leaving his role as a lawmaker, he has instead joined the grupo mixto, the mixed group of deputies from small parties in Congress, where he is now an independent. 

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