Read in Catalan

For the last 10 days, Spanish politics have been marked by the Koldo case. The alleged corruption plot over the collection of illegal commissions on face mask contracts to a value of almost 54 million euros during the first months of the Covid pandemic became news with the arrest on February 21st of Koldo García, advisor to former Socialist minister José Luis Ábalos, along with 14 other people. For now, they have all been released with precautionary measures applied, after testifying before a judge. In the investigation carried out by the National Audience, there are at least three administrations involved: the central transport ministry of the Spanish government, and the autonomous governments of the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands. Among the contracts investigated, there is one worth 20 million euros for the supply of masks; another of 12.5 million euros for the ADIF rail infrastructure firm and a third awarded to the General Directorate of Economic and Patrimonial Management, dependent on the interior ministry, for 3.4 million euros. All three were signed between March and April 2020. Also in the spotlight are four contracts awarded by the Canary Islands health service, amounting to around 12.3 million euros; and one from the Balearic Islands health service for €3.7 million.

Who's who in the Koldo case?

The investigation of what the police called Operation Delorme, now dubbed the Koldo Case, focuses on several protagonists. Ábalos' ex-advisor, Koldo García; football club president, Víctor de Aldama, head of the Zamora CF; businessman Juan Carlos Cueto; Koldo García's brother, Joseba García; Koldo García's wife, Patricia Ruiz; a Civil Guard officer, José Luis Rodríguez; and a Basque businessman, Iñigo Rotaeche. They are under investigation for alleged crimes of criminal organization, money laundering, bribery and influence peddling.

Koldo García, the right hand of Ábalos

The best-known face of the plot and the one who had now given it its name. Koldo García was the right-hand man of ex-minister José Luis Ábalos when he held the portfolio of development and then transport in the Pedro Sánchez government. García was an adviser to Ábalos and went so far as to be appointed a director of Renfe and member of the governing council of the port operator Puertos del Estado between 2018 and 2021. Before arriving in Madrid, he was a personal bodyguard for senior politicians in Navarra, head of service of the Serramar security company in El Sadar at the beginning of 2000 and a councillor in Huarte (Navarrs). It is not the first problem he has had with the justice system, as he had already been convicted in two cases: one for assaulting a minor and another for beating another man during a protest.

The prosecutors consider that Koldo García provided the Soluciones de Gestión company with information on the public licitation processes for medical equipment and acted as a mediator so that it could obtain several contracts. In exchange for this help, the investigators suspect that he received illegal commissions, and specifically, they focus on his increase in wealth - 1.5 million euros in 2 years - and allegedly attempting to conceal it through his relatives, including his wife and brother.

Koldo Garcia a la sortida de l'Audiència Nacional després de quedar en llibertat Efe
Koldo Garcia leaving the National Audience / EFE

Víctor de Aldama, footballing president of Zamora CF

The president of Zamora Club de Futbol, Víctor de Aldama, is another key figure in the case. According to the investigations, De Aldama allegedly was the commission agent in the corruption plot, thus, in the role of a middleman, putting in contact those who had the money with those who had the information. In fact, the judge says he had "a special pass" at the ministry of transport. From the conversations that took place, investigators believe that the contracts he obtained were a "joint project" of De Aldama and businessman Juan Carlos Cueto - head of the operation and owner of Grupo Cueto - in which they allegedly obtained a profit of 5.5 million euros.

Juan Carlos Cueto and Víctor de Aldama are said to have had a "close relationship" with Koldo García, with whom the Zamora president had contact on "at least one occasion" in order to "speed up the procedures" with the transport ministry in the contracting process. The judge released him on bail and required him to make regular court appearances, with his passport being revoked. In addition, the judge is considering impounding his car, a Ferrari Portofino.

Víctor de Aldama
Zamora CF president, Víctor de Aldama, leaving court / EFE 

Juan Carlos Cueto, the brain of the operation

Juan Carlos Cueto is the leader of Grupo Cueto, although since the police investigation he no longer appears among the management figures of the conglomerate, and is the one who supposedly controlled the company. Cueto is considered the mastermind of the operation, with the investigation stating that he controlled 100% of the company Soluciones de Gestión, which was awarded the masks contracts now being investigated, to value of 54 million euros. However, the actual owner of the company is Íñigo Rotaetxe, Cueto's right-hand man and also involved in the plot. The judge is investigating whether Cueto and Víctor de Aldama had de facto responsibility for the contracts under investigation. It is estimated that Cueto obtained a profit of 9.6 million euros, allegedly.

Cueto, who was out of Spain when the case broke out, has also appeared before the National Audience, denying that he received illegal commissions. In addition, he asserted that he did it to "help Spaniards" and the price was fair according to the market. Apart from this case, the businessman has another pending case for the Defex case, a corruption plot related to the sale of arms. He is accused of falsifying contracts in Angola. Pending trial, the anticorruption prosecutor is asking for him to be jailed for 50 years and seven months in prison.

Juan Carlos Cueto, cervell cas Koldo / Europa Press
Juan Carlos Cueto, alleged mastermind of the Koldo case at the exit of the National Court / Europa Press

José Luis Rodríguez García, a Civil Guard officer

Apart from the three main protagonists of the plot, there are other prominent figures such as José Luis Rodriguez García, a second lieutenant for the Spanish Civil Guard assigned to the transport ministry, who is also alleged to have held meetings with Koldo García between 2022 and 2023 at a seafood restaurant in Madrid. The investigators consider that "there is evidence" of his knowledge "and possible participation" in the criminal actions, and according to the judge he is also considered "a key piece in the management of the contracts under investigation". He is an employee of a Grupo Cueto company, uses a vehicle that is owned by the company and the prosecutors assert that he took part in a real estate operation in the Ourense province involving the "surplus value" that Soluciones de Gestión obtained with the contracts.

Iñigo Rotaeche

The Basque businessman is the listed owner of Soluciones de Gestión y Apoyo de Empresas, although investigators believe it was actually controlled by the Cueto group. He was also arrested and released without bail pending the investigation. The revenue of the firm based in Zaragoza skyrocketed in just a year. In the 2019 financial year, it had 0 euros in revenue, while in 2020 it earned 54 million, although in 2021 it fell again to 845,670 euros.

Joseba García, brother of Koldo García

The case has also splashed Koldo García's family. His brother, Joseba García is alleged to have acted to conceal real estate ownership and underwent a notable increase in assets, with a total of 267,774 euros in cash transactions between 2020 and 2022. Joseba García has been linked to organizations dependent on the ministry of transport since 2019, a fact that "cannot be detached from the position" of his brother.

L'empresari Íñigo Rotaetxe (i), al costat del germà de Koldo García (d), a la sortida de l'Audiència Nacional aquest dijous. EFESergio Pérez
Businessman Íñigo Rotaetxe and Joseba García, brother of Koldo, leaving the court / EFE

Patricia Ruiz, wife of Koldo García

Patricia Ruiz was arrested on Tuesday and released. She held a position in the Navarra Socialist Party, but after the case broke out her membership was suspended. She is the owner of a large part of the assets throught to be acquired with income from the ex-advisor of Ábalos thanks to her increase in assets between 2017 and 2022. According to the investigation, they found "138,062 euros without justification". They place her at the centre of the plot because of her knowledge of the matters being investigated.

Israel Pilar Ortiz

Despite the fact that the prosecution's complaint doe not include him, in one of the actions the judge refers to his "protagonism" in some of the conversations that have been analyzed and due to which he is considered "the link" or "the first step", putting him under suspicion over the possible reception of commissions.

Ramiro Grau

Not a suspect but an apparent would-be whistle-blower: lawyer Ramiro Grau has stated that he warned the Spanish executive six times in writing about the Koldo case. Specifically, he explained that he sent letters warning about the alleged corruption plot involving Koldo García, ex-advisor of the former minister José Luis Ábalos, for the collection of illegal commissions on masks contracts during the pandemic.

Ábalos, splashed by the Koldo case

One of the main victims of the Koldo case, although he is not currently being investigated by the prosecutors, is José Luis Ábalos. The executive of the PSOE asked Ábalos to give up his seat as an MP out of "political responsibility". After 24 hours of uncertainty, Ábalos appeared before the press in Congress to defend his innocence and to announce that he was not leaving his seat, but only the PSOE parliamentary group, transferring to the mixed group of miscellaneous MPs to "defend himself at all levels" and "restore" his "honour" and his "reputation" as a deputy and as a person. However, the reports speculating on links between Ábalos and the alleged corruption plot do not stop. Now, the National Audience judge investigating the case sees the former minister as an "intermediary" in the plot. Meanwhile, alleged mask contract irregularities have now brought the name of the current speaker of Congress, Francina Armengol, into the headlines, for the facemask contract management by her Balearic Islands government in 2020.