Spanish PM Sanchez suspends public duties after wife accused of corruption | World News - Hindustan Times
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Spanish PM Sanchez suspends public duties after wife accused of corruption

Reuters |
Apr 25, 2024 06:41 AM IST

Manos Limpias has accused Gomez of receiving favours from airline Air Europa and its Spanish holding company Globalia

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Wednesday he would step back from public duties "for a few days" to decide whether he wants to continue leading the government after a court launched a business corruption probe into his wife's private dealings.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and his wife Maria Begona Gomez Fernandez (REUTERS)
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and his wife Maria Begona Gomez Fernandez (REUTERS)

Sanchez, who last year secured another term for his Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) as leader of a minority coalition government, said he would announce his decision on Monday, April 29.

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"I need to pause and think," he wrote in a letter shared on his X account. "At this point, I have to ask myself: is it all worth it? I honestly don't know... whether I should continue to lead the government or renounce this honour."

"I will cancel my public agenda for a few days in order to reflect and decide which path to take."

The shock announcement came after a Spanish court said earlier on Wednesday it was launching a preliminary investigation into accusations of influence peddling and corruption levelled at Sanchez's wife Begona Gomez.

The court investigating Gomez did not provide further details as the case is sealed and in early stages, only saying it followed a complaint raised by anti-graft campaign group Manos Limpias - Clean Hands - whose leader has links to the far-right.

Manos Limpias has accused Gomez of receiving favours from airline Air Europa and its Spanish holding company Globalia during her time as director of an African research centre at Madrid's IE business school until 2022, according to a seven-page document published by radio station Cadena Ser on its website.

IE said in a statement that it had never received any financial support from Globalia or its entities. Globalia did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters on Wednesday.

Sanchez said the seriousness of the attacks against him and his wife merited a measured response. He said his wife has done nothing wrong and would cooperate with the investigation and defend her innocence. Gomez has not commented.

In the letter Sanchez also took aim at opposition leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo of the People's Party (PP) and Santiago Abascal of the far-right Vox party, saying they had "collaborated" with those circulating the claims against his wife.

Feijoo said Sanchez was seeking to blame opposition parties for the activities of judges. "The prime minister has a judicial problem. He is running away from his responsibilities. What he should have done is give explanations. If you have nothing to fear, why not? If his wife has nothing to fear, she should go to court and make her innocence clear," he said.

Several members of Sanchez's cabinet were seen arriving at his residence on Wednesday evening.

His ministers have backed him, with Yolanda Diaz, the Labour Minister and leader of the government's left-wing coalition partner Sumar, saying Sanchez had her "full support".

"The right-wing offensive cannot get its way," she wrote on X. "We must defend democracy, the progressive bloc and the legitimacy of the coalition government that has improved people's lives so much."

KNOWN RISK-TAKER

The announcement is in keeping with Sanchez's knack for keeping Spaniards on their toes. The 52-year-old, known as "El Guapo" (Mr. Handsome), is a known risk-taker who has frequently defied the odds to secure or maintain power.

Last year, he called a snap election after his PSOE party performed poorly in regional elections. After the PP won the most seats but failed to reach a majority in the July national election, he forged a controversial deal with smaller regional parties to govern that included an amnesty for Catalans who were involved in a 2017 independence push.

That decision has further soured an already polarized political atmosphere and resulted in repeated attacks on him and his party from not only opposition leaders but also the judiciary.

When he announced the snap election, Sanchez told very few members of his inner circle, surprising most. On Wednesday, Sanchez had told only his family and close friends and had drafted the letter himself without consulting aides, sources told Reuters.

If Sanchez were to step down parliament could choose another prime minister but given its fractured nature it seemed unlikely anyone would prevail, said Lluis Orriols, a professor in political science at the Carlos III University in Madrid. More likely would be another general election, Orriols said.

Abascal, the leader of Vox, said in response to Sanchez's letter that Sanchez should have "benched himself long ago" over the Catalan separatist amnesty deal.

"We don't know if this is another of his propaganda manoeuvres to present himself as a poor victim," he said.

Some on the street were also sceptical, saying the threat of resigning looked like a ploy by Sanchez.

"I think it's a way of attracting attention and getting the press to react, but the reality is that he's not going to resign," said Cristina, 24, a consultant in Madrid, declining to give a second name.

Corruption scandals have dogged politics on the Iberian peninsula in recent years.

Sanchez himself grabbed power after successfully leading a no confidence vote in 2018 against Mariano Rajoy of the PP after a court found party officials were guilty of operating a slush fund.

In neighbouring Portugal, Socialist Antonio Costa stepped down last year amid allegations of graft in hydrogen and lithium projects involving his government.

Sanchez on Thursday had been scheduled to open the Socialist campaign for regional elections in Catalonia, where his party is seeking to wrest power from separatist parties that have led the region since 2015.

Spain's Socialists are expected to be the strongest force in a weakening Socialists and Democrats group in European Parliament elections in June.

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