The Popular Party (PP) spent 20 times more than the legally permitted amount to promote its candidate in the 2007 municipal elections in Alicante, according to the PR agency that organized most of the events and media coverage for the campaign. What’s more, it was able to do so thanks to funding by several local and national construction companies, it claims.
Enrique Ruiz Córcoles, who runs ER Backspin, a PR agency based in Alicante, alleges he was told he would be paid his €200,000 fee in cash by Sonia Castedo, then head of town planning in the port city and now its mayor, for organizing an advertising and marketing campaign that cost more than €450,000. Both she and Enrique Ortiz, one of the main contributors to the campaign fund – according to Ruiz – have denied the accusations, although they are under investigation for allegedly manipulating zoning regulations in return for kickbacks from the latter’s construction company.
Opinion polls in the run-up to the 2007 municipal elections in Alicante showed that the PP was likely to lose control of the city, prompting the no-holds-barred campaign that, among other activities, saw it plastered with giant hoardings of PP candidate Luis Díaz Alperi, who eventually won his fourth consecutive term as mayor. The PP won 15 out of 29 seats on the city council. The following year, after Alperi stood down, Castedo took over as mayor. “We all knew that this was about getting Castedo in, it was clear she was going to take over,” says Ruiz.
Ruiz says he never signed a contract with the PP for his services, and was simply asked to present a bill for €21,000, the maximum amount Spain’s electoral law permits for municipal campaigns.
He says that of the €200,000 he was promised in payment for organizing the marketing and advertising for the election campaign, he was given €35,000 in cash in Alperi’s office after the elections, and told that the money had come “from Madrid,” suggesting that the party’s head office had financed the campaign. The rest of the money would be paid over time, Ruiz says he was told, and from different nearby municipalities. The tax authorities are looking into around €88,000 supposedly paid to Castedo from the municipal election campaign fund.
Ruiz says he was also paid directly by other construction companies, among them Ortiz’s. “Ortiz paid me between €30,000 and €40,000. I went to his offices and a secretary gave me an envelope,” he says, an allegation Ortiz denies.
“Sonia spoke to construction companies to get them on board, and would have paid them between €8,000 and €40,000 for allowing buildings to be used for hoardings. We got the best spots in the city,” says Ruiz. Alicante City Hall had previously passed legislation forbidding the use of giant hoardings during election campaigns.
Castedo, Ortiz and Alperi deny wrongdoing
Alicante Mayor Sonia Castedo denies allegations that while managing the 2007 municipal election campaign in the city she called in favors from local construction companies, while playing down Ruiz’s role. “Enrique Ruiz ran part of the campaign, not all of it. He handled a number of things, and the party paid him,” she said on November 28. Castedo, who is under investigation in two corruption cases, says she never asked construction firms to allow the Popular Party to use their buildings to hang hoardings promoting Luis Alperi, its candidate for mayor in the election. “We put up two hoardings, but we had to take one of them down.”
She also says that if Ruiz has any grievances with the PP over payment, “he should take the matter before the courts.” That said, she praises the publicist for his work in the campaign. “I never had any problems with him. He was quick and efficient. He won contracts because his offers were the best, but we never paid anybody in cash, off the books, that was not authorized.” She also disputes Ruiz’s claim that the election campaign could have cost €450,000: “This was a very small campaign.”
Former Alicante mayor José Luis Díaz Alperi denies Ruiz’s allegation that the publicist was paid €35,000 in cash in Alperi’s office. “I do not know that gentleman. I wasn’t involved in the campaign or the accounts. The campaign was run by Sonia Castedo. Nobody has ever been paid cash in my office.” He says he cannot remember if giant hoardings featuring his image were hung from buildings in the city.
“The campaign was enormous. We hired around 150 people over the course of 25 days. There were events throughout the city, with inflatable castles, trampolines, bands. We gave away free drinks, as well as printing a special 12-page leaflet that was posted to every home in Alicante,” adds Ruiz.
But Ruiz says that two years after the elections he still had not been paid in full. “In 2009, I began to have problems: I was unable to pay my suppliers, and things were getting difficult. I was told that I would be paid via municipal concessions, but the amounts they offered were ridiculous. The whole thing was a farce and we all knew. The business community in Alicante has been bled dry.”
Ruiz also claims that Ortiz regularly gave gifts to Sonia Castedo. “She would say to him, ‘Enrique, don’t give me all these gifts, because I don’t know how I can ever pay you back.’ And he would reply: ‘Yes you do.’ They were watches and jewelry worth up to €7,000 apiece. I have heard conversations between Castedo and Ortiz that defy belief. In those days, corruption was normal. Castedo was a frequent visitor to Ortiz’s yacht in Ibiza.”
Ruiz says he fell out of favor with Castedo after he began working with one of her political enemies, José Antonio Sobrino, a PP councilor in Alicante.
The publicist says he has had to sell his catamaran, and moved to Algeria in February 2012 in search of work, leaving behind many unpaid debts. “They are living like kings,” he says of his former employers, “while I’m reduced to begging. I’ve had a terrible time, although I have been able to get my life back on track. Those people never imagined that I would dare to tell the truth. I have kept quiet for seven years, but I wanted to do this. Now I can relax.”