22nd June 2024
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Right-wing opposition calls for resignations in ‘Koldo scandal’

The Spanish coalition government is under increasing pressure from the country’s right-wing opposition due to a scandal involving the purchase of face masks during the pandemic.

The kickbacks scandal came to light in February, after police arrested several people, one of whom was a close aide to a former minister and key ally of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

But as the investigation has deepened, the right-wing People’s Party (PP) has demanded the resignation of parliamentary speaker Francina Armengol (main image), who holds the third-highest office in Spain after the king and the prime minister.

The scandal emerged on 21 February with the arrest of Koldo García, a close adviser to José Luis Ábalos, who served as transport minister from 2018-2021 and a key member of Sanchez’s socialist (PSOE) party.

García is suspected of being involved in a scheme that allowed a small company, Soluciones de Gestión y Apoyo a las Empresas SL, to secure contracts worth €53 million to supply face masks to public authorities during the early stages of the pandemic. These contracts allegedly led to kickbacks worth €9.5 million.

Since his arrest, the media, particularly right-leaning outlets, have extensively covered the ‘Koldo affair’, with new revelations emerging regularly. This has put the government on the defensive against harsh attacks from the right.

Although Ábalos was not initially implicated in the affair, the PSOE party asked him to stand down as an MP to take ‘political responsibility’ for a scandal that occurred on his watch. 

But when he refused, saying it would be seen as ‘an admission of guilt’, they suspended him pending expulsion. It has since emerged that the investigating judge believes Ábalos acted as an ‘intermediary’. ALSO READ: PSOE suspend ex-minister Ábalos, who will now serve as an independent MP.

Ábalos was replaced as transport minister during a 2021 government reshuffle, and the PP has claimed his removal showed that Sánchez was aware of the scandal and had sought to sideline him.

‘You knew about it and you covered it up!’ PP leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo accused Sánchez last week, without offering any proof.

And the party has also upped the ante over contracts the company signed with two of Spain’s 17 regions, both governed at the time by the PSOE: one with the Canary Islands, worth €12.2 million and a second with the Balearic Islands, worth €3.7 million.

Ángel Victor Torres, who headed the Canary Islands regional government at the time, is now territorial policy minister and the former regional head of the Balearic Islands is Armengol, the current parliamentary speaker.

The PP has demanded to know how the Balearics administration could have awarded such a large contract to a previously unknown company, which had supplied face masks that were not of the quality they had paid for.

On Monday, the PP demanded Armengol resign, prompting her to lash back a day later.

‘I have never, ever instructed anyone in my governments to hire one company or another,’ she said on Tuesday, accusing the opposition of ‘crossing every red line’.

But her words did little to silence the PP whose spokesman Miguel Tellado once again insisted that she ‘resign her post as soon as possible’.

Also Monday, the European public prosecutor’s office said it would be investigating the two contracts given that the masks were bought with EU funds.

On Wednesday it was confirmed that Álvaro Sánchez Manzanares, who heads the public body that manages the ports and paid the firm at the heart of the affair €20 million for eight million masks, was dismissed from his post, following a decision by the transport ministry.

The case is particularly sensitive for Sánchez, who took power in 2018 following a huge corruption scandal that brought down Spain’s right-wing government, and has since prided himself on the integrity and transparency of his administration.

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