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What is Spain's 'Caso Koldo' corruption scandal all about?

Conor Faulkner
Conor Faulkner - [email protected]
What is Spain's 'Caso Koldo' corruption scandal all about?
Pedro Sánchez speaks to José Luis Ábalos in 2019. The ruling Socialists have given him 24 hours to resign over the PPE scandal that's embroiled the party. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

If you've kept up with Spanish headlines in the last week, you might've noticed that Spain is becoming embroiled in what could be its very own pandemic PPE scandal: the 'Koldo Case'.


Spain is no stranger to political scandals or corruption cases. With the so-called 'Caso Koldo' dominating headlines in the last week or so, it has a potential two-in one that is both putting the government under pressure and reminiscent of the UK's own PPE procurement scandal.

The scandal broke following the arrest of Koldo García, a one-time advisor to Spain's then Transport Minister, José Luis Ábalos, for alleged corruption and 'kickbacks' in the awarding of contracts for face masks during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Last week Spain's Civil Guard police arrested around twenty people and carried out 26 property searches throughout Spain, with crimes of criminal organisation, money laundering, bribery and influence peddling all suspected.

The investigation is being led by Spain's national High Court, looking specifically at whether illegal commission payments were handed out when awarding contracts for healthcare material, mostly face masks, from the Ministries of Public Works and Interior, as well as the healthcare systems in the Balearic and Canary Islands.

The investigation is also looking into a "personal and direct relationship" between García and two of the people alleged to have participated in Ministry contracts, specifically masks purchases by Puertos del Estado worth €20 million and by Adif worth €12.5 million.

Anticorruption prosecutors allege that García used the Transport Ministry to speed up the contracting process and financially benefit Soluciones de Gestión y Apoyo a Empresas, the shadowy company at the centre of the alleged plot.

Which companies and contracts are under investigation?

Soluciones de Gestión y Apoyo a Empresas is the main focus of inquiries, a company which went from an annual turnover of €0 in 2019 to almost €54 million in 2020. Investigators believe the company could have even been selected for contracts before the public tender documents were made public.

The contracts under scrutiny are principally those mask contracts for supplies to the Ministries of Public Works and Interior, and healthcare systems in the Balearic and Canary Islands.


Why is this becoming such a political story?

In a word: Ábalos, and the fact he hasn't resigned yet. Ábalos is a prominent MP, and a key figure both in government in his current role as Minister of Transport, but also as PSOE's organisational secretary until 2021.

The scandal is heaping political pressure on Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez's ruling Socialists (PSOE), and some in the government have even subtly called on him to go. Minister of Finance and Deputy Secretary General of the PSOE, María Jesús Montero, said simply amid calls for Ábalos' resignation: "I know what I would do."

The opposition party Partido Popular (PP) has also called on Ábalos to resign, and is attempting to build the mask contract scandal into a broader narrative about corruption and sleaze in the Sánchez government on the back of its controversial amnesty deal with Catalan separatist parties.

Ábalos stated publicly that he "had no idea" of García's alleged involvement in the scheme, and described himself as "stunned" and "very disappointed".

He has been given 24 hours by ruling Socialists to resign.


Who is Koldo García?

A former local council in Huarte (Pamplona), García became Ábalos' chauffeur in 2018 when he was PSOE General Secretary.

Once Ábalos became a Minister of Parliament, he appointed García as a director at Renfe Mercancías. He was also a member of the Governing Council of Puertos del Estado, one of public bodies caught up in the corruption scheme.

García is essentially suspected of having acted as an intermediary and collecting bribes or commissions for arranging the contracts.

He did so, according to prosecutor's documents, by abusing his public position, and is suspected of receiving up to €1.5 million in bribes and commissions.

Suspicions were first raised following his "notable increase in wealth" and the purchase of three flats in Benidorm.

Koldo García's brother and wife were also arrested as part of the investigations.


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