Spain’s wealthiest woman dies at 69

Rosalia Mera, a Spanish billionaire who co-founded fashion label Zara with her then-husband Amancio Ortega, has died after suffering a brain haemorrhage while on holiday in Menorca.

Spain's wealthiest woman dies at 69
Rags to riches: Mera dropped out of school at the age 11 to work as a sales assistant in a clothing shop. Photo: YouTube

Mera started fashion consortium Inditex in 1963 with Amancio Ortega, whom she married three years later.

The couple started off making women’s bathrobes but by 1975 had opened their first Zara store in La Coruña, northern Spain.

The company eventually expanded to sell eight different brands, including Massimo Dutti, Pull & Bear and Bershka.

With more than 6,000 stores in 86 countries, Inditex sales reached €15.9 billion ($21 billion) in 2012.

According to Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index, Mera’s estimated net worth was €4,1 billion ($5,5 billion), making her Spain’s wealthiest woman.

Although Mera and Ortega divorced in 1997, she held almost 7 percent of Inditex together with her daughter Sandra until her death on Thursday.

Mera, who dropped out of school at the age 11 to work as a sales assistant in a clothing shop, spent her last years running a  foundation which helps disabled and disadvantaged people to find jobs.

Mera had two children, Sandra and Marcos, from her marriage to Ortega.

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Zara founder’s cancer donation stirs controversy in Spain

The billionaire founder of clothing giant Zara is donating €320 million ($361 million) in cutting-edge cancer-fighting equipment to hospitals in Spain, an act that has raised stinging criticism -- to the dismay and incredulity of patients.

Zara founder's cancer donation stirs controversy in Spain
Amancio Ortega is the richest man in Spain. File photo: Miguel Riopa/Daniel Lobo/AFP

Far-left party Podemos and associations defending public health have said the donation via Amancio Ortega's foundation is inappropriate because his clothing company Inditex, which owns Zara and other brands, is accused of tax avoidance — a claim the group denies.

Ortega should “not be demonstrating his philanthropy but his desire to contribute to public finances in a way that is proportional to his profits,” the Federation of Associations for the Defence of Public Health Services said in a statement earlier this month.

READ MORE: Zara king Ortega falls foul of tax office

Luisa Lores, spokeswoman for the federation, told AFP it was also a “way to avoid paying taxes” as part of the donation is tax deductible.   

But this reaction has been met with incredulity by others — including cancer patients — who say any donation is welcome in a country where the public health system suffered from huge spending cuts during the financial crisis.

“I need to live, and there are thousands of people like me fighting cancer, we get up every day with side effects, we get up every day trying to smile, to fight for life,” Tina Fuertes, a cancer patient, said Wednesday on Spanish television.

“It hurts, I don't understand, this doesn't make sense,” she said of the controversy.

Podemos chief Pablo Iglesias has also hit out at Ortega, one of the world's richest men, accusing him of carrying out a marketing ploy and deploring that “philanthropy should be seen as a mechanism to finance public health” in Spain.   

The donation represents eight percent of last year's public health budget in Spain, where more than 200,000 cancers are diagnosed annually, according to Ortega's foundation.

Hospitals in Galicia in the north and Andalusia in the south have already received various pieces of equipment.   

The foundation told AFP it would continue implementing the programme in other hospitals.