In the latest spectacular case of alleged corruption to hit Spain, the former president of the Madrid regional government was arrested on Wednesday, accused of being the head of a network of associates that drained part of the region’s public finances of 60 million euros.
Ignacio González, who led Madrid for the Partido Popular (PP) from 2012 to 2015, was held with eleven others in a day of high drama in the capital which saw Guardia Civil officers searching private offices and regional government buildings.
The case centres on the alleged use of the local, publically-owned water supplier to filter off funds via companies in South America. The main water company in Madrid is known as Canal Isabel II - after the canal that historically brought the city its water. According to court documents, between 2013 and 2015, the Canal Isabel II company acquired other firms in Brazil and Colombia at inflated prices and a large part of the money spent then found its way back into the hands of those arrested.
In one example, a Brazilian company was bought for 21.4 million euros in 2013 but by 2015 it was showing in the Madrid public water company’s accounts as a negative 5.5-million-euro asset.
This is not the first time that suspicions have arisen concerning the activities of Ignacio González. In 2008, private detectives videoed him and a former executive of the water company taking white bin bags into a building in Colombia, and leaving again empty handed ten minutes later. At the time, González explained away the bags. “They were towels, damn it!” he said and no further action was taken.
‘Something smelt bad’
Since 2012, police have been investigating a 700,000-euro penthouse in Alhambra del Golf, west of Marbella, that González acquired about the same time as the incident in Colombia, over suspicions about the origin of funds to used to buy it.
In this latest operation, codenamed ‘Operación Lezo’, the accused also include former water-company executives and family members of González. González is also facing accusations of charging commission for the awarding of public contracts and illegally funding regional election campaigning for the PP party.
His name has also been linked to other interconnected and complex corruption cases which have been plaguing the PP in recent years.
The party has suspended his membership and current president of the Madrid region, Cristina Cifuentes, also PP, has claimed it was her administration that had helped uncover the alleged corruption. Before becoming president, she said: “ The Canal smells bad [referring to the Madrid water company], and it’s not stagnant water.”