Esperanza Aguirre, the former head of the regional government of Madrid and for three decades a leading figure in the Popular Party (PP), resigned on Monday from her role as the party’s spokesperson in the capital’s city council. Pressure had grown on the veteran politician to quit after her former right-hand man, Ignacio González, was arrested on Wednesday as part of an investigation into the latest of a long line of corruption scandals to hit the conservative group.
“I have it as a rule of conduct not to avoid my responsibilities,” she said at a press conference on Monday evening at 5pm. “That is why I am resigning. I feel deceived and betrayed by Ignacio González. I didn’t keep an eye on what I should have done.”
González was among the 12 people arrested on Wednesday as part of Operation Lezo, an investigation into corruption at the Madrid regional water utility Canal de Isabel II. González is the latest politician to be ensnared in one of a number of cases that has been dogging the conservative party for some time.
Javier López Madrid of construction firm OHL has been arrested in relation to illegal financing of the PP
Aguirre stood down as president of the Madrid division of the PP in February 2016 amid the Púnica corruption scandal involving senior colleagues, also on the basis that the wrongdoing took place on her watch.
Both the Púnica and Lezo investigations focus on possible corruption at the Madrid division of the PP during Aguirre and González’s leaderships, which spanned the years from 2003 to 2015. But when Aguirre appeared in court last Thursday in Madrid to give evidence relating to another corruption scandal, Gürtel, protected by her position as the PP’s spokeswoman at Madrid city council, Aguirre used her statement as an opportunity to outline her political successes.
Addressing journalists outside the court after her two-hour testimony, Aguirre broke down, and amid tears described what she called González’s “Calvary” if it turned out the accusations against him were false. She added that if her former protégé turned out to be guilty, it would be “disappointing” and a “blow” for her.
A senior figure in the PP last week told EL PAÍS that Aguirre would have to stand down from the party. “She’s going to do it, because she has no other way out, and because she knows now that there is no question of her standing as a candidate for the PP, but she’ll do it and without asking anybody’s advice, not even Rajoy’s or the party leadership.”
The Púnica and Lezo investigations focus on corruption at the Madrid division of the PP between 2003 to 2015
“The best thing that could happen to Aguirre now would be to leave politics, because sooner or later she’s going to have to anyway; she’s not going to be a candidate and she knows it,” says the same source.
Operation Lezo is an investigation into whether funds were channeled from the water company to benefit members of González’s administration. Other sources say the investigation is also looking into possible illegal party financing through Canal de Isabel II, along with purchases by the water company in Latin America, where it allegedly overpaid for business acquisitions.
Businessman with links to PP arrested
Last Thursday, Spanish police arrested Javier López Madrid, a member of the board of directors of leading construction firm OHL, in relation to alleged illegal financing of the PP. López Madrid is allegedly linked to an illegal commission of €1.4 million in relation to a failed light-rail project in the Spanish capital.
López was arrested late on Thursday night in the latest phase of Operation Lezo. López Madrid’s arrest came a few hours after a search of the office of OHL in Madrid, from which police took details of a proposed tram route from the center of the capital to the dormitory towns of Navalcarnero and Móstoles. The contract was approved by the Madrid regional government in 2007, but work has been paralyzed by a dispute between the administration and OHL.
Investigators were looking for evidence of an alleged commission paid through a Mexican OHL affiliate that transferred €1.4 million to Swiss bank accounts in the name of frontmen for González.
López Madrid is also an official suspect in the Púnica case. The Audiencia Nacional, Spain’s central High Court, is looking into whether the Madrid division of the PP was the final recipient of more than €1 million that López Madrid supposedly donated to Beltrán Gutiérrez Moliner, the then-administrator of the PP in Madrid. His initials and those of López Madrid were found alongside sums of money in the diary of Francisco Granados, the former deputy head of the regional government in Madrid, who is being held in custody for his alleged involvement in Púnica.
López Madrid has been handed down a six-month prison term in relation to another corruption case, misuse of the so-called black credit cards issued to board members of the Caja Madrid savings bank, now Bankia.
Esperanza Aguirre: a true survivor
A canny operator who has spent 35 years on the frontline of Spanish politics, Esperanza Aguirre has been a Madrid City Hall councilor, a minister, a senator, the first woman to preside over the upper house, a regional deputy and one of the few women to head a regional government, in this case, that of the capital.
In Madrid she pushed recycling policies, extended the Metro system to the furthest corners of the city, and appeared to invest in public services while at the same time dismantling a health and education system that worked well in order to create a huge, parallel private market.
But Aguirre is not just a political survivor. In 2005, she was involved in a helicopter crash along with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, and in 2008 escaped unscathed from the terrorist bloodbath in Mumbai.
Her survival instinct has also shown itself in the manner in which she has, until now, emerged none the worse from other potentially damaging episodes: in 2003, when two Socialist Party (PSOE) deputies were persuaded to change their votes to prevent the PSOE from forming a coalition government in Madrid, opening the door to her nine years at the head of the regional administration. Later came the Gürtel corruption scandal, an extensive network of kickbacks for contracts, then Púnica, another scheme related to public contracts involving her former top aide, Francisco Granados.