Fresh setback for Spanish university at center of master’s scandal over financial excesses

After being accused of gifting degrees to politicians, the head of a law school at King Juan Carlos University is now under scrutiny for credit cards used to fund luxury lifestyle

Professor Enrique Álvarez Conde is accused of misusing university funds.
Professor Enrique Álvarez Conde is accused of misusing university funds.Víctor Sainz

Besides allegedly doling out academic qualifications to politicians, the Institute of Public Law at Madrid’s King Juan Carlos University (URJC) was apparently out of financial control as well.

Court records in connection with a case that has already ruined the careers of a regional premier and a national minister show that institute credit cards were used to pay for luxury hotels, food, clothing, gasoline and more, particularly during public holidays.

Institute credit cards paid for top hotels in Cáceres and San Sebastián

More than €50,000 was charged to the institute’s accounts just for trips, restaurants and related expenses. A further €40,000 was taken out in cash, and there were payments worth nearly €12,000 in foreign currency, court papers show.

The head of the institute, Enrique Álvarez Conde, was suspended in April over a scandal involving Cristina Cifuentes, who was the premier of the Madrid region when the story broke. When an online newspaper revealed numerous irregularities with the master’s degree she obtained from this center, the ensuing probe revealed bad practices that including tampering with grades. The case morphed into a criminal investigation by a Madrid court when the signatures on a document produced by Cifuentes to prove that she defended her final thesis turned out to be forged.

Cifuentes ultimately resigned over the growing scandal, which soon engulfed another politician with a degree from the same seat of learning: Pablo Casado, who recently became leader of the conservative Popular Party (PP). The Supreme Court is currently considering whether to open a full investigation into him for alleged wrongdoing in connection with the way he obtained his own master’s degree from the URJC. And more recently, Carmen Montón stepped down as health minister when irregularities emerged in connection with her own degree from the URJC. Montón said she was quitting to avoid hurting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, of the Socialist Party (PSOE), whose own academic record was questioned in Congress last week.

Cristina Cifuentes resigned over a scandal involving her degree from URJC.
Cristina Cifuentes resigned over a scandal involving her degree from URJC.EFE

Now, a new judicial investigation into the URJC’s Public Law Institute is analyzing €100,000 in questionable expenses that included a stay at the luxury hotel located inside the famous Marqués de Riscal winery in Elciego, in the wine-making region known as Rioja Alavesa, on December 8 – coinciding with Constitution Day in Spain. The next day, the institute accounts were charged €397.40 for accommodation at Hostería San Millán de la Cogolla, located at a World Heritage Site. Institute credit cards also paid for top hotels in Cáceres and San Sebastián at different dates.

Credit card records show these were used to pay the bills at more than 200 restaurants, besides gas stations, travel agencies, supermarkets, fashion boutiques and technology stores. The institute also paid telephone and internet bills, and even funded Spotify and Amazon Prime accounts, for a total of more than €50,000. A further €40,000 was taken out in cash.

Under one man’s control

The institute’s accounts were controlled by its chief, Enrique Álvarez Conde, who has been reported by university officials for misappropriation of funds. Álvarez Conde, who was the only account holder, told the bank to send all related mail to his home address. The university has launched a financial audit to examine these expenditures, which cover the period from late 2012 to early 2018. Meanwhile, the courts have begun their own probe.

“While the documentation still needs further analysis, there are numerous transactions that are either unjustified or attributed to expenses that can hardly have a connection with an education center belonging to a public university,” reads a police report that looked at 250 pages of bank statements included in the court papers.

In its complaint against Álvarez Conde, the university said that these expenses do not appear to be connected in any way with teaching activities, and that they lacked proper authorization from top URJC officials. A second Madrid court is investigating these allegations of financial wrongdoing, while the first continues to probe the earlier claims of academic giveaways to politicians.

This newspaper has unsuccessfully tried to reach Álvarez Conde for comment.

English version by Susana Urra.


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