Spanish PM's wife to testify in graft probe

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's wife Begona Gomez does not hold public office and keeps a low public profile (JAVIER SORIANO)
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's wife Begona Gomez does not hold public office and keeps a low public profile (JAVIER SORIANO)

A Spanish court on Tuesday summoned Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's wife to testify as part of a preliminary corruption probe into her business ties in a case the premier dismissed as a "set-up".

The Madrid court said it had called Begona Gomez to testify 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.

It 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 Sanchez said there was no basis to the graft probe.

"We are both absolutely at ease. There is nothing behind this accusation, just a coarse set-up promoted by far-right associations," he said in a letter posted on social network X, accusing the right of using the case to "try to condition" this weekend's elections for the European parliament.

The Socialist leader said his decision to remain in office is "firmer than ever" and defended his wife as "a hard-working and honest woman".

- 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.