No Mickey Mouse gifts for minister

Gürtel ring allegedly paid for health chief Mato’s Eurodisney trip and other jaunts

Ana Mato in Congress.
Ana Mato in Congress. ULY MARTÍN

The Gürtel business ring that allegedly bribed public officials in exchange for government contracts paid for personal trips to Eurodisney and Finland by the current health minister Ana Mato and her family, an investigation by the tax agency shows.

“Book me three double rooms for individual use. The rooms have to be spacious and with views of Helsinki. I want top floors. These are VIP clients,” reads one of the documents seized from the Gürtel network (so called after its leader Francisco Correa, a businessman with good connections in the Popular Party whose surname loosely translates into belt in English or Gürtel in German).

This request by Pasadena Viajes, a Gürtel business that organized trips and election campaigns for the PP, shows the degree to which the ring took care of every last detail to please government officials. The trip included guided tours, a Spanish interpreter, and a stay in Rovaniemi, capital of Finnish Lapland, where the Mato family enjoyed sledding with huskies.

At the time that this reservation was made, between December 13 and 15, 1996, Ana Mato was a member of Congress, although her name does not show up explicitly on the documents. Instead, it was her husband Jesús Sepúlveda, former mayor of Pozuelo, an upmarket Madrid suburb, who took care of details along with Correa and former PP treasurer Luis Bárcenas.

Tax authorities estimate that Gürtel paid for up to 15 trips and events for the Mato-Sepúlveda family, including a trip to Eurodisney in October 1998 for the minister and a child, who stayed at the Newport Hotel and had breakfast with Disney characters. Half of that trip, which cost 3,635 francs (554 euros), was funded by Correa with his own credit card.

The rooms have to be spacious and with views of Helsinki. These are VIP clients"

The report also states that Correa paid 1,300 euros for another trip by Mato, this time to Dublin in 1999, with one of her daughters. The invoice shows the handwritten note “Consult with Mr Correa” and the letters “REG,” which tax authorities take to mean regalo or gift in English. There were two additional payments of 1,822 euros under the heading First Communion of Jesús Sepúlveda’s daughter and two further items for birthday parties held in 2005 and 2006.

This is the third time that the tax agency has sent information about Gürtel gifts to the Sepúlveda-Mato family to High Court Judge Pablo Ruz, who is in charge of the Gürtel investigation. On previous occasions, documents seized from Gürtel showed that Mato accepted two luxury items from the Louis Vuitton brand whose value was estimated at 610 euros.

Sources close to Ana Mato said that “she is not aware that anyone outside her family ever paid for anything for her,” including the trips. Sepúlveda has repeatedly stated that he was solely in charge of “all economic decisions and transactions” in the family accounts and that Mato had nothing to do with them. The couple has since separated, and Sepúlveda was forced to resign as mayor of Pozuelo in 2009 after being charged with awarding no-bid contracts to Gürtel.

The PP has seized on this self-accusation by Sepúlveda to play down Mato’s involvement in the case. “Women who are deceived by their husbands are not stupid,” stated Alfonso Alonso, the PP spokesman in Congress, in a radio interview on SER station. In reference to the Eurodisney trip, he said that “her husband did all that” and noted that it is Sepúlveda who faces charges in connection with Gürtel, not Mato, “who is doing a fantastic job at the helm of the Health Ministry.”

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