Socialists “knew circumstances” of deal, says sex offender-backed mayor

Controversy in Ponferrada deals yet another blow to PSOE leader Rubalcaba

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The Socialist mayor at the center of an institutional wrangle, Samuel Folgueral, is continuing to provoke tremors in the foundations of his party.

Last Friday, Folgueral took control of the town of Ponferrada, in León province, after Popular Party (PP) Mayor Carlos López Riesco was removed by a vote of no confidence. But the motion of censure triggered a wave of public criticism for having been backed by an independent councilor, Ismael Álvarez, who in 2002 had been forced to step down from the post himself after being convicted of sexual harassment.

The controversy led Socialist leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba to order Folgueral to either hand in his resignation as mayor, which was planned to be a temporary fix, or his party membership card. On Sunday, Folgueral and seven Socialist deputies took the latter option.

On Monday, Socialist Party number three Óscar López, who backed the vote of no confidence in Ponferrada, tendered his resignation, which was refused, and stated that Rubalcaba had no idea about the situation in the town.

But Folgueral disagrees. “Absolutely,” he told EL PAÍS on Monday when asked if the two party chiefs were aware of the nature of the deal. “The PP asked them to stop the motion. The party knew the circumstances.”

Folgueral, whose statement is backed by a residents’ protest against the pact with Álvarez staged two weeks before the vote, justifies the deal: “It’s a question of math: eight [Socialist deputies] plus five [from Álvarez’s independents] makes 13. And 13 is more than 12 [PP deputies]. That permits stability.”

Óscar López on Monday said he was aware of the deal and backed it as it provided the opportunity to “get Ismael Álvarez out of politics.” Folgueral says he had always demanded that Álvarez resign after the motion was passed.

“Once the decision was taken, if we had waited for [Riesco] to resign, he could have diluted the process and not called an assembly,” the new mayor said. “We thought this would make the motion unviable. Furthermore, [Álvarez] had been doing public work for two years. The law does not impede him from doing so. There is a legal vacuum that cannot be blamed on us. Thanks to our deal he is now out of politics. His offer to resign was demanded by the party and by me.”

The Ponferrada affair is yet another blow to Rubalcaba’s leadership. The Socialist leader in Madrid, Tomás Gómez, led the calls for the person responsible to resign, while former Defense Minister Carme Chacón also condemned the vote. The Socialists’ equality chief, Purificación Causapié, promised a proposal to prevent a repeat of Ponferrada.

As for the now-independent council of Ponferrada’s future in the Socialist Party, López was blunt: “It is not our intention that they return to our lists [in 2015].”

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