Cracks are beginning to show in the Ruiz-Mateos empire, but they have appeared in a way no one could have foreseen.
For years, the controversial family has been able to successfully navigate multimillion-euro debts, countless legal battles, and more than 40 property embargoes and evictions stemming from José María Ruiz-Mateos' mismanagement of his Nueva Rumasa conglomerate.
But now it is the family members who are tearing apart their own dynasty, due to a vicious feud loaded with allegations of fraud and personal attacks that are being played out in the press.
Patriarch José María Ruiz-Mateos is under court investigation on a multitude of charges related to his business dealings, including swindling investors, document forgery, tax fraud and money laundering. This 82-year-old staunch Catholic is from the old school, and believes that the men in his family should run his network of companies while the women stay at home to raise their kids. The clan is a large one, with 13 children — six of them sons — and 52 grandchildren.
Throughout the father's troubles, including the much-publicized government expropriation of the original Rumasa in 1983, the family has always remained united in public. But now that image has been shattered.
Begoña, one of his daughters, has filed corruption complaints in court against her brothers, while at the same time Ruiz-Mateos' sons have admitted before an investigating judge that their father is guilty of all the charges that he is facing. And to complicate the matter, Joaquín Yvancos, who for 28 years had been Ruiz-Mateos' right-hand man, has also jumped ship: he too is talking to investigators. Relations are so tense that it has become a scenario where all are trying to save their own necks while they can.
Lawyers representing all parties have refused to speak to reporters, possibly to avoid more trouble between family members. It has also been a while since anyone from the Ruiz-Mateos clan has spoken to the press; long gone are the days of positive media reports on the astronomical growth of Nueva Rumasa's companies — because there is no longer any money to pay for them.
Ruiz-Mateos’ sons have admitted before an investigating judge that their father is guilty of all the charges that he is facing
The sons' sudden turncoat cooperation with authorities may seem like a disloyal move against their father but it is all part of a long-thought-out legal strategy. Ruiz-Mateos suffers from Parkinson's disease and his health is rapidly deteriorating. He may never see the inside of a jail because of his age and condition. His wealth is virtually nonexistent; there is nothing under his name that can be confiscated by a court.
His sons — Zoilo, José María, Alfonso, Javier, Álvaro and Pablo — have been charged with numerous crimes, including money laundering, concealment of assets and tax fraud. In some cases, prosecutors have already asked for sentencing hearings.
The defense strategy, say legal experts, has been to blame everything on the father: the sons were just following orders and had no access to any financial statements. That, along with their father's own tricks to keep out of a courtroom, prolongs the cases further, which could mean that sentencing rulings may never be handed down.
Meanwhile, Begoña, the third-eldest child in the dynasty, is suing her six brothers for fraud, price manipulation, money laundering and forced insolvency. She is considered a rarity among the strict Catholic clan, having married, divorced and remarried.
Her first husband was an aristocrat, Carlos Perreau de Pinninck, a baron who aided Ruiz-Mateos' brief foray into politics during the 1980s. He also served as a euro deputy from 1989 to 1994.
His wealth is virtually nonexistent; there is nothing under his name that can be confiscated by a court.
Perreau de Pinninck was considered the perfect son-in-law by the patriarch, who had always sought a higher status for his family in Spanish society. But the marriage didn't work and the divorce was a costly one.
Begoña's home was sold for 1.2 million euros, with half of the amount going to the baron while, for some unknown reason, the other 600,000 euros was divided among the six brothers, according to her current husband Antonio Biondini.
According to the couple's complaints, the six brothers have reneged on their pledge to give them a 30,000-euro monthly salary. Begoña and Biondini have not been able to maintain their opulent lifestyles.
The family feud has also been fueled by a curious war of press releases issued separately by 11 of the 13 siblings, who accuse their sister of being a liar and wanting to benefit from all the legal troubles the family is facing. Only Begoña and one of her sisters, Socorro, have remained silent while internal battles rage on.
The Nueva Rumasa affiliates function as saving banks for the 13 children: all drew monthly salaries from the companies and received homes in exchange for renouncing their inheritance rights. They decided to do so in 2004 when their father's health began to decline at an alarming rate.
None of the Ruiz-Mateos children has ever had economic independence. Now that the money has dried up, the family that was so united has never before been so divided.