Health minister will not resign over Gürtel scandal “for the moment”

Pressure is mounting as PM prepares to discuss corruption in Congress on Thursday

Health Minister Ana Mato has survived several calls for her resignation.
Health Minister Ana Mato has survived several calls for her resignation.Javier Lizón (EFE)

Health Minister Ana Mato is not considering resigning over the latest scandal to affect her, at least “not for now,” said sources familiar with the situation on Wednesday.

The judge investigating the Gürtel kickbacks-for-contracts case, which has ensnared many top officials in Spain’s ruling Popular Party (PP), believes Mato “personally profited” from crimes allegedly committed by her ex-husband, Jesús Sepúlveda, the former mayor of the Madrid commuter town of Pozuelo de Alarcón.

Following the constant trickle of corruption cases affecting the PP, and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s desire to show that he is cracking down on wrongdoers, the minister could be forced out whether she wants to go or not.

“Nothing can be ruled out at the moment,” said high-ranking party officials.

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The same sources noted that Rajoy is scheduled to appear in Congress on Thursday to speak about corruption, and having a suspect government member sitting next to him could be an undesirable situation.

Some PP leaders criticized High Court judge Pablo Ruz for releasing his written statement just hours before this critical appearance by Rajoy.

Ruz’s decision rests on the fact that the health minister “may have enjoyed or benefited from, alone or in the company of other members of the family unit,” tourism services, the payment of family events and other items worth €55,439. The Gürtel ring allegedly presented Mato with Louis Vuitton handbags and paid for her daughter’s First Communion celebration as well as several birthday parties.

While no charges have been pressed against Mato, she may end up facing civil liability in connection with her husband’s alleged crimes. Sepúlveda is one of 43 suspects who will stand trial over the Gürtel case.

This is not the first time that Mato has felt the heat over Gürtel. In May 2013, it emerged that the ring 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.

More recently, the health minister survived widespread calls for her resignation following the Ebola crisis, in which authorities were accused of mishandling the situation.

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