Spain’s health minister resigned on Wednesday, making her the first senior politician from the government of Mariano Rajoy to lose her job over corruption allegations.
The decision deals a fresh blow to the country’s embattled prime minister, who is fighting political fires on several fronts and whose tenure has been dogged by a string of corruption scandals involving members of the ruling Popular party.
Ana Mato, the health minister, had long been seen as a weak link in the Rajoy cabinet, regularly emerging as one of the most disliked figures in an already unpopular government. She is the second minister in just over two months to leave the cabinet under a cloud of controversy, after the resignation in September of Mr Rajoy’s justice minister over a botched attempt to reform the country’s abortion system.
Ms Mato’s resignation was prompted by the Madrid-based judge who is leading a sprawling political corruption probe into the so-called Guertel case. It involves allegations that local and regional PP politicians received kick-backs and bribes from private contractors. Ms Mato’s ex-husband is a formal suspect in the case.
The health minister herself is not a suspect in the probe, but on Wednesday the investigating judge released a statement saying she had likely “benefited” from the activities of her husband. The statement says she had made use of “tourist services, payment of family events and other items of personal use”, and suggested that she could face civil claims in connection with the case.
In her resignation statement, Ms Mato stressed that the judge had made no suggestion of “criminal responsibility”, but said she was stepping down all the same. She said she was acting to ensure that neither the government, nor Mr Rajoy, nor the party would suffer damage as a result of her role in cabinet.
The Guertel case, which first surfaced five years ago, has long cast a shadow over Mr Mato’s political future, not least because of a series of now-notorious statements she made in connection with the probe. When the scandal first broke, she declared that she had not been aware that her husband was driving a new Jaguar – a remark that has provided fodder to political satirists ever since.
In her role as health minister, she went on to face heavy attacks from political opponents over her handling of the recent Ebola outbreak in a Madrid hospital.
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