How the Spanish prime minister’s wife created a political storm

Begona Gomez cuts a stylish figure at a ballot box in a bright red dress, with her husband behind her and officials and press standing around
Ms Gomez and Mr Sanchez cast their votes in Spain's general election last July - Javier Soriano/AFP

When Pedro Sanchez became Spain’s prime minister in 2018, his wife was a little-known consultant with expertise in NGO fundraising who directed a business course at a Madrid university.

Her academic career was transformed when her husband became her country’s leader, bringing Begona Gomez into contact with a slew of high-powered associates who, it has been alleged, tried to leverage her influence, creating a political storm.

Ms Gomez was headhunted in late 2018 by IE, the top Spanish private university, to direct a newly created Africa Centre.

The opposition Popular Party (PP) accused Mr Sanchez of “plugging Ms Gomez into” a prestigious role for which she had little relevant experience. She left the Africa Centre in 2022.

In 2020 she became co-director of a business Master’s course and professorship at the Complutense, Madrid’s leading public university, where she already headed another post-graduate programme.

Connections between the 49-year-old’s university departments and some of the companies and businessmen involved in their funding and management have recently come under intense public scrutiny.

A placard is held aloft during a demonstration, showing Mr Sanchez behind bars
A protest against Mr Sanchez in Madrid in April - Oscar del Pozo/AFP

In March the online newspaper El Confidencial ran a series of stories about Ms Gomez’s relationship with executives from Globalia, a sponsor of Africa Center whose airline subsidiary Air Europa received €475 million (£404 million) of pandemic bailout funds in 2020.

Spain’s conflict of interest office cleared Mr Sanchez after the PP said he should have recused himself from the cabinet meeting at which the bailout was approved.

It was also reported that Ms Gomez had given her signature as a referee in support of companies participating in public tenders in which a co-director of the Complutense professorship was a beneficiary. More than €10 million (£8.5 million) in public funds were granted to the companies involved.

In April it was announced that a Madrid court had opened a preliminary investigation into allegations Ms Gomez was involved in business corruption and influence peddling.

Her husband’s reaction to the judicial probe was to take five days off official duties to consider his future.

In a “letter to citizens”, Mr Sanchez described his wife as “hard-working and honest”.

Mr Sanchez has accused Right-wing politicians, media and the judge investigating Ms Gomez of actively conspiring to overthrow him.

Mr Feijoo is holding an A3 piece of paper printed with press cuttings while other members of parliament look on with amusement
Alberto Feijoo, the main opposition leader, holds up headlines about Ms Gomez in the Spanish Parliament last month - Mariscal/Shutterstock

At the end of his five-day retreat, Mr Sanchez said his wife had urged him to fight on as government leader.

As Spain’s voters head to the polls in Sunday’s European elections, conservative leaders point to allegations of corruption against the prime minister’s wife as proof of the government’s decadence.

The prime minister presented Sunday’s ballot as a choice between opposition “sleaze-slingers” and his government of “progress and social advances”.

This week Mr Sanchez attended a Socialist electoral rally along with Ms Gomez, saying that he and his wife thanked the party faithful “from the heart” for their solidarity in the face of “attacks from the Right and far-Right”.

Socialist supporters chanted “Begona, Begona” as the couple linked hands in the Malaga sunshine.

The Spanish government has pointed out that a police investigation, carried out in response to the judge’s probe, found no evidence of wrongdoing by Ms Gomez.

Madrid’s public prosecution authority appealed against the opening of the investigation, and a higher court has confined the probe to the letters of reference for public contracts, leaving the Air Europa bailout out of proceedings.

Two men in suits sit behind microphones
The ultra-Catholic political group HazteOir filed a lawsuit against Ms Gomez last month - Matias Chiofalo/Getty

Many legal experts have pointed out that there is no evidence of Ms Gomez receiving any illicit benefit in the dealings under consideration.

“The facts as presented may be true but still do not constitute a crime,” said Elisa de la Nuez, a legal expert and member of anti-corruption organisation Hay Derecho.

Ms De la Nuez said acting as a referee for a company seeking a public contract was “not a good idea” on Ms Gomez’s part. “Not because it’s illegal but because of who she is and the way it could be interpreted.”

A source from the prime minister’s office told The Telegraph the country’s leading couple were relaxed about the probe. “This is just fake news and they know the case will come to absolutely nothing.”

But the PP noted that neither Mr Sanchez nor Ms Gomez have offered public explanations to refute the accusations.

“Any other European leader would resign over something like this,” a source from the PP executive said.

Sanchez accuses judge of playing politics

In another public letter Mr Sanchez this week accused Judge Juan Carlos Peinado of playing politics by announcing that he was summoning Ms Gomez to testify in court next month just days before the European elections.

PP leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo said Mr Sanchez was “cooking up a melodrama at the expense of 48 million Spaniards to cover up corruption that reaches the Moncloa [PM’s residence]”.

Mr Feijoo has accused Mr Sanchez of betraying Spaniards after the Socialists came second to the PP in last year’s general election but held on to power by winning over Catalan nationalist parties with a controversial amnesty for leaders of Catalonia’s unlawful 2017 bid to secede from Spain.

The political bad blood has become personal. Days after the first accusations against Ms Gomez were aired, a tax fraud case involving the partner of PP rising star Isabel Diaz Ayuso was leaked to Left-leaning media.