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Spanish PM’s wife to testify in graft probe

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A court on Tuesday summoned the wife of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez as part of a preliminary corruption probe into her business ties in a case the government insists is based on “lies and disinformation”.

The Madid court said it had summoned Begona Gomez to answer questions on July 5 “as an investigated party” about “the alleged offences of corruption in the private sector and influence peddling”.

The move comes nearly a week after it rejected a prosecutors’ request to close the probe, indicating there was “sufficient” evidence to justify continuing the investigation.

The decision to open the probe was a setback for Sanchez but a boost for his right-wing opponents who see it as vindication of their allegations that he and his left-wing government are corrupt.

“There is evidence that an alleged criminal offence was committed” which “goes beyond mere suspicion” and was “sufficient” to let the investigation continue, said court documents seen by AFP.

This contradicts a recent Guardia Civil police report that found no evidence of any criminal offence.

The opposition welcomed the summons but government spokeswoman Pilar Alegria said there was no basis for the probe, telling reporters “there is absolutely nothing here”.

“What we have here is a mudslinging campaign by the right and the far-right,” she added, referring to the right-wing opposition Popular Party (PP) and the extreme right Vox.

– Letters of support –

The court opened the probe into Gomez for suspected influence peddling and corruption on April 16 following a complaint filed by an anti-graft NGO linked to the far right.

The group, Manos Limpias (Clean Hands) says its complaint is based on media reports. It has previously filed a litany of unsuccessful lawsuits against politicians.

When the court rejected prosecutors’ request to close the probe last week, it said it was looking into two letters of support Gomez allegedly provided in 2020 for a joint venture bidding for several public contracts.

The joint venture’s main shareholder was consultant Carlos Barrabes, who had ties to a department at Madrid’s Complutense University that was run by Gomez.

It won the contracts, beating 20 rivals, and was awarded 10.2 million euros ($11.1 million).

Although it did not represent the cheapest bid, it received top marks in the sections on subjective appraisal, beating all its competitors in the final accounting.

The court also said it was dropping its investigation into Gomez’s alleged ties to the head of Spanish tourism group Globalia when the company was negotiating a bailout for its airline Air Europa during the Covid-19 pandemic.

– ‘Harass and discredit’ –

Gomez, 49, has not spoken publicly on the case but Sanchez has decried it as a political bid to “harass and discredit” him by “media heavily influenced by the right and far-right”.

When the court initially confirmed the probe, Sanchez said in a shock announcement that he would consider resigning. He took five days to reflect and in the end, decided to stay on.

The opposition denounced the move as pure political theatre, saying Sanchez had never had any intention of stepping down.

Opposition leader and PP head Alberto Nunez Feijoo has said Sanchez should resign over the questions regarding his wife’s business dealings.

Sanchez must “assume his responsibilities immediately,” he said on Tuesday after the court issued its summons.

“Any head of government with a modicum of dignity would have resigned this very day,” PP spokesman Borja Semper told reporters.

Gomez does not hold public office and keeps a low public profile. She did not want to give up her career when her husband became premier in 2018, having been involved in fundraising, particularly for NGOs.

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AFP

Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.







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