The tall tales of “Little Nicolás”
Spain’s answer to Walter Mitty is using lies and half-truths to try to prove his stories
The first time I heard the name Francisco Nicolás Gómez Iglesias was in August. I had left the Royal Household in late July after working as communications director there since March 2012, and I was in the middle of my summer vacation. But one day I got a call from Jorge Cosmen, chairman of the coach service company ALSA and a personal friend of mine. He was calling to tell me that he had just had lunch in Ribadeo with an odd character purporting to work for the Royal Household and for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.
It was the young man who has since been dubbed by the media as “Little Nicolás.”
There was great expectation as the BMW opened up, but to everyone’s dismay it was not Felipe VI who stepped out
The story he told me left me wondering. Cosmen said a friend of his had asked him to receive this young man because the latter had something important to tell him. Cosmen initially replied that he was away on vacation in Ribadeo and would not be returning to Madrid until September. But the intermediary called him back to say that Nicolás could travel to Ribadeo, so Cosmen booked a table at a restaurant called San Miguel. A day before the lunch date, Nicolás called him up in person to say that a third person would be joining them at the restaurant table: none other than King Felipe VI himself.
Jorge Cosmen was very surprised at this piece of news, but nevertheless called the restaurant and asked for a discreet table for three. And here came the second surprise: the restaurant owner said he knew all about it, because he’d received a call from someone who said to work at La Zarzuela Palace, and who booked more tables for the monarch’s bodyguards.
How Nicolás got into the king’s coronation reception
During the TV interviews with Francisco Nicolás that were broadcast on Spanish TV over the weekend, he insisted that he did not sneak in to the reception at the Royal Palace after the coronation of King Felipe VI, and to prove it produced an emailed invitation. But is that really what happened?
Invitations for the reception at the Royal Palace were sent by email given that there was not enough time to send out printed versions to the more than 2,500 guests. But the email contained a scanned, personalized invitation. Nicolás never received such a personalized invitation, instead entering the reception as the guest of businesswoman Catalina Hoffman. The pair appear in a now-infamous photo greeting the new king. It is true that he did not sneak in, but it is false to say that he was expressly invited.
Lies and half-lies are the specialty of a conman. When he says that he mediated between the Royal Household and the far-right pseudo labor union Manos Limpias to help find a solution to an embezzlement case involving the king’s daughter Cristina, he failed to explain the method he used in all of his adventures as a mediator: he would approach one side saying that the other wanted to negotiate, and vice versa. He would approach Cristina’s secretary, Carlos García Revenga, and Miguel Bernad Remón, from Manos Limpias, selling fantasies. But in this particular case, he ended up in the hands of the lawyers for Manos Limpias, who have not ruled out suing Nicolás. And the Royal Household has flatly denied that he carried out any work for them.
It’s the same story when it comes to his claims that he spoke by phone with King Juan Carlos or with his secretary, Alfonso Sanz Portolés. Nicolás got hold of the private number of the king and called him up. Juan Carlos answered, and the youngster requested a private audience with him. The king politely answered that he should call his secretary. Sanz Portolés called him back to see what he wanted, and told him that he should write a former request for the audience. But it went no further than that, given that Nicolás never sent that letter nor did anyone in La Zarzuela palace take another phone call from him.
Nicolás said this weekend that lies do not get you far. But an approach that involves threats using half-truths never works. Especially not in a courtroom.
The third surprise was to arrive the following day. A motorcade comprising three cars — two high-range Audis and “one of the bigger” BMWs — and a few motorcycles showed up on the streets of Ribadeo, a small Galician town with a population of under 20,000. There was great expectation as the door of the BMW opened up, but to everyone’s dismay it was not Felipe VI who stepped out, but an innocent-looking youth – Little Nicolás.
Lunch was uneventful, and the young man talked non-stop about the importance of ALSA to the Spain brand, mentioning the fact that both the government and the royal family were very impressed and interested in Cosmen’s company.
This was evidently the initial phase of the operation, in which Little Nicolás laid the charm on thick to impress the other party. But far from letting all the fireworks impress him, Cosmen began doing some research. I told him that I had no idea who that boy was, and that the whole thing sounded like a big hoax. He got the same answer from María Pico, chief of staff for Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría.
The trouble was that María Pico received several other calls that month, reporting similar encounters with the young man. Pico told Santamaría about it, and the deputy prime minister said the police had to know about this because it seemed like a case of someone impersonating a public official.
Soon after, Fran, Nicolás or whatever his name may be (conmen tend to use different names) made another noteworthy appearance on the balcony of Pinto City Hall, during a tribute to the cyclist Alberto Contador. He managed to get up there by passing himself off as the Marquis of Togores and an assistant at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. He had been using the title of Marquis of Togores for months to get into the elite Puerta de Hierro Club and impress his lunch guests.
After searching the social networks and seeing the dozens of photographs showing the young man alongside many important people, investigators began to get worried. Technology affects conmen as well. It used to be that these characters indulged simply in namedropping to prove that they were on familiar terms with the country’s most influential people, but Nicolás added “selfie-dropping” to justify his lies or half-truths.
At one point, María Pico called up the impostor and asked him openly whether he was working for the deputy prime minister. Nicolás hesitated, mumbled yes, then asked who was on the other end of the line. Pico identified herself and warned him that he was committing a crime. Nicolás backed down and explained that he was only 20 years old, and said he had never impersonated anyone.
Nicolás had been using the title of Marquis of Togores to get into the elite Puerta de Hierro Club
Later came a legal complaint by one Javier Martínez de la Hiruela, who accused him of swindling him out of €25,000 during the attempted sale of an estate in Toledo valued at €15 million (those charges have since been dropped, reportedly).
Then, 40 days ago, Little Nicolás was arrested in Madrid’s Chamberí district, in a police operation worthy of the character. After spending 72 hours at the precinct, he was released on charges of forgery, fraud and impersonation. A house search yielded forged reports from Spain’s intelligence services, the CNI, phony vehicle permits to enter La Moncloa, which is the seat of government, a police siren and two legitimate Civil Guard and National Police license plates.
The judge in charge of the investigation has written that the suspect exhibits “a florid, delirious flow of ideas of the megalomaniac type.” The inquiry is currently under a gag order.
The judge has written that the suspect exhibits “a florid, delirious flow of ideas of the megalomaniac type”
But now, Francisco Nicolás Gómez Iglesias, who was born in Madrid in 1994, has decided to “spill the beans.” He is threatening to disclose sensitive information while shamelessly asserting that he works with the CNI, the government and the royals. He also claims to be in possession of evidence that will back up all his statements, and has announced a series of television appearances to discuss all these issues. He also made a point of stating (up to 10 times at one point) that he would do it for free, even as rumors circulated that the production company Mandarina had paid him €100,000 to appear on its program.
In under 48 hours, all three institutions — the House of Felipe VI, La Moncloa and the CNI — denied Nicolás’s allegations, yet the young man continues to throw stones in every direction to see if he hits any windows. Using lies and half-truths, he is trying to get these institutions involved.
Some of the lies are so barefaced that they expose themselves. If he says that he has met with Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría on several occasions and even traveled in her car, and she says she has never seen him in her life, that’s the end of the story.
The most serious claim is that he worked as a collaborator for the CNI, where agents allegedly indulged in practices that bordered on the illegal
But the most serious claim is that he worked as a collaborator for the CNI, where some agents allegedly indulged in practices that bordered on the illegal. The CNI denies any connection with him, and will only confirm that in September 2013 he was at their offices in Aravaca in the company of an officer from Executive Forum, an event-organizing business, to invite CNI director Félix Sánz Roldán to a breakfast meeting. The invitation was declined. CNI sources think that Nicolás used that visit to take note of physical details about the offices that would later help him with his cons.
In a release issued on November 22, the CNI says that Sánz Roldán has gotten in touch with the Attorney General’s Office to see “whether Mr Gómez Iglesias’ public statements might constitute a crime.”
So how did he pull it off? The truth is, he worked very hard at it. For years he cultivated an image as a well-connected individual with good contacts at the conservative think tank FAES, in business circles and Madrid city government. He would show up at the box at Santiago Bernabéu stadium and at political and business events at Madrid’s main hotels, where he always managed to secure a good seat in the front rows. And he took pictures nonstop, which he later uploaded onto his Facebook account.
The next step was acting as a mediator between someone with a problem and someone with the solution. This is where his utter cheek came in. He had the chutzpah to tell the lawyers of Jordi Pujol, the former Catalan premier under investigation for tax evasion, that he could get the case closed (for a fee). He tried to mediate in a Spanish construction company’s business dealings in Mexico, and pretended to have good contacts in Equatorial Guinea and the ability to secure very beneficial contracts for Spanish companies. He even claims to have actively participated in the negotiations to bring Eurovegas to Madrid.
It is true that he was seen at many public events and that he has the pictures to prove it. But he has never been to La Moncloa, La Zarzuela or the CNI, much less on many occasions.
Spain’s period movies often depicted a trick known as “el timo de la estampita,” a type of popular swindle in which the victim ended up believing that he had deceived the con artist, eliminating the possibility of a police complaint. Is this what happened here, which would explain why more complaints have not been filed against Little Nicolás? Or is it that Gómez Iglesias was never able to deliver on his promises and never got his fees? Those questions remain unanswered.
Also unclear is the role of the construction company Edhinor, which apparently rented the house in Madrid’s exclusive El Viso neighborhood in which Nicolás held all kinds of meetings and parties until June. The young man had a business card in which he showed up as “institutional relations officer” for Edhinor. The media has been speculating that important politicians and businessmen may have been recorded there.
There is one final mystery. What is the role of the lawyer Juan Antonio Untoria Agustín, owner of the company Pristina S.L. and an army lieutenant, who assisted the man who filed the claim against Nicolás and later dropped the charges? This attorney was later charged and convicted for laundering money for the Russian mafias.
I worked at a bank for 13 years, and there was an unwritten rule that said that if a customer came to ask for a loan or met with a bank officer, and boasted about personally knowing the chairman or members of the board, we should be distrustful. There is little doubt that if many of the people whom Gómez Iglesias abused had lived by that rule, they would have avoided a lot of trouble.
But here is the final question: did Nicolás really have powerful godfathers, or were they all extras on a giant movie set?
A raft of denials
Francisco Nicolás Gómez Iglesias, better known as “Little Nicolás,” has claimed in interviews with Spanish daily El Mundo and TV channel Telecinco that he worked for the deputy prime minister, the Royal Household, and the Spanish secret service, the CNI. But all three of those institutions deny any relationship with the youngster. What’s more, the Economy Minister denies that it ever loaned him a car.
Deputy prime minister. "Francisco Nicolás Gómez Iglesias has never worked with the deputy prime minister, and as such, has never been given any assignment," the government's official spokesperson announced this weekend. What's more, the department denied that the deputy prime minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, had ever traveled with him by car, as the alleged impostor claimed.
National Intelligence Center (CNI). "The CNI has never assigned Mr Gómez with any kind of action or activity, related or otherwise to functions and missions at this center. The secretary of state director of the CNI is at the disposal of supervisory bodies as established by the law to testify to the aforementioned point," the CNI said this weekend. What's more, it announced that it had put the issue in the hands of the Solicitor General's Office given that his statements "may constitute an offense."
The Royal Household. The Spanish Royal Household has also denied having assigned any functions to Nicolás, "neither regarding judicial procedures involving the infanta Cristina nor regarding any other issues." It has admitted that "given the intention [of Nicolás] to be received" by King Juan Carlos, "he was informed that he should request [an audience] in writing following the usual official procedures." Something that, they explain, never took place.