13th July 2024
José Luis Ábalos
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PSOE suspend ex-minister Ábalos, who will now serve as an independent MP

#UPDATED at 19h on Tuesday 27 February

The PSOE socialists have now temporarily suspended former transport minister José Luis Ábalos from the party, following his refusal to resign as an MP [see full report below].

Ábalos said on Wednesday that he would not be stepping down as MP, after he was given 24 hours to do so following the fallout over the ‘Koldo case’. 

‘I am not being investigated or prosecuted,’ he said. ‘I cannot end my political career labelled as corrupt when I am innocent.’

Ábalos will now serve as an independent MP of the ‘Mixed Group’ in the Spanish Congress. With a slim majority, the PSOE-Sumar coalition government, that already depends on the support of Podemos MPs within the Mixed Group, as well as the Catalan pro-independence parties and Basque nationalists, will also now have to negotiate with him to secure his support for future legislative approvals.

Original full report below:

Spain’s ruling socialist (PSOE) party on Monday gave former Transport Minister José Luis Ábalos 24 hours to step down as an MP after an assistant was arrested on suspicion of taking payments to facilitate contracts for face masks during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ábalos is a prominent MP, and as well as being transport minister between 2018 and 2021, he was also the PSOE’s General Secretary until 2021.

While Ábalos has not been accused of any crime, the PSOE believes he bears ‘political responsibility’, Esther Peña, a party spokesperson, said at a press conference in Madrid. Peña said there was no room for corruption in the party. 

Amid calls for Ábalos’ resignation, Spain’s Minister of Finance and Deputy Secretary General of the PSOE, María Jesús Montero, said: ‘I know what I would do.’ The government is launching a parliamentary committee to investigate all contracts awarded during the pandemic.

Ábalos told La Sexta TV over the weekend, however, that he denied any wrongdoing and had no plans to resign. He said he would have done if the suspected scandal had broken while he was minister.

The online El Diario newspaper on Monday cited Ábalos as saying that he has stepped down as chair of the interior affairs committee in parliament, but was still thinking about whether to resign as an MP.

The scandal follows the arrest of Koldo García, a one-time advisor to Ábalos when he was transport minister, for alleged corruption and ‘kickbacks’ in the awarding of contracts for face masks during the Covid-19 pandemic.

García was a local councillor in Huarte (Pamplona), before he became Ábalos’ chauffeur in 2018 when he was PSOE General Secretary.

Once Ábalos became an MP, he appointed García as a director at Renfe Mercancías. He was also a member of the governing council of Puertos del Estado, one of public bodies that is at the centre of the alleged corruption scheme.

Anti-corruption prosecutors accuse García of taking payments to act as a conduit between the government and Soluciones de Gestión y Apoyo a las Empresas SL, a company created in 2017 to supply electricity generators, according to court documents.

The company went from an annual turnover of €0 in 2019 to almost €54 million in 2020, at the height of the pandemic. Investigators suspect the company could have been selected for contracts before the public tender documents were made public.

Prosecutors accuse García of receiving payments after he helped the company win contracts to supply masks to Spanish ports (Puertos del Estado) worth €20 million and the state railway company ADIF worth €12.5 million, among others, while Ábalos was transport minister.

Last week the Guardia Civil arrested around 20 people and carried out 26 searches on properties across Spain, with crimes of criminal organisation, money laundering, bribery and influence peddling all suspected.

The investigation is being led by Spain’s National Court, looking at whether illegal commissions were paid when awarding contracts for healthcare material, from the Ministries of Public Works and Interior, as well as the healthcare systems in the Balearic and Canary Islands.

García, according to prosecutor’s documents, is suspected of receiving up to €1.5 million in bribes and commissions and abusing his public position.

Suspicions were first raised following his ‘notable increase in wealth’ and the purchase of three flats in Benidorm. García’s brother and wife were also arrested as part of the investigations.

Ábalos has stated publicly that he ‘had no idea’ of García’s alleged involvement in the scandal, and described himself as ‘stunned’ and ‘very disappointed’.

If Ábalos does step down, he would automatically be replaced with another PSOE lawmaker under Spain’s parliamentary system, so it would not have an impact on the party’s number of seats. If he refuses to step down but is expelled from the party, he could continue to serve as an independent MP.

The alleged scandal comes as Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez struggles to make headway in a new term with a government reliant on the precarious support of Catalan pro-independence parties and amid heavy criticism of his agreement to concede a controversial amnesty in exchange for their votes in parliament.

The right-wing People’s Party (PP), also calling on Ábalos to resign, is trying to portray the scandal as a wider case of corruption and sleaze in Sánchez’s fragile coalition government.

José Luis Ábalos
File image of José Luis Ábalos, taken in May 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. (Pool Moncloa / Borja Puig de la Bellacasa)

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