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Hoaxer or high-flyer? The strange case of “Little Nicolás”

Just how did a 20-year-old student end up rubbing shoulders with Spain’s political elite?

Francisco Nicolás Gómez-Iglesias greets Felipe VI on the day of his coronation.
Francisco Nicolás Gómez-Iglesias greets Felipe VI on the day of his coronation.

At first it looked like a simple case of a young wannabe who pushed his luck too far: on October 13, Spanish police arrested Francisco Nicolás Gómez-Iglesias, a 20-year-old university student, charging him with forging official documents, passing himself off as an advisor to Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría and as an agent of Spain’s secret service, the National Intelligence Center (CNI), as part of a supposed scam to fleece a businessman out of €25,000.

But in the days that followed, a growing number of questions emerged as to just how Gómez-Iglesias kept up his high-flying lifestyle, and whether the top-level connections about which he has boasted might even be protecting him.

The Spanish media has had a field day with the case, publishing photographs showing floppy-haired Gómez-Iglesias shaking hands with King Felipe after attending his coronation, as well as with senior members of the ruling Popular Party, among them former prime minister José María Aznar.

Gómez-Iglesias (c) with former Madrid regional premier Esperanza Aguirre (r) and TV presenter Ana Rosa Quintana.
Gómez-Iglesias (c) with former Madrid regional premier Esperanza Aguirre (r) and TV presenter Ana Rosa Quintana.

Sunkel & Paz, the law firm representing Gómez-Iglesias, says his contacts with the Royal Household, the Popular Party (PP) and even the CNI, are all verifiable. It adds that the person he is accused of swindling, who has only been identified as J. M. H., has so far refused to press charges. Gómez-Iglesias was supposedly helping the businessman sell a property in Toledo valued at €10 million in return for a commission of at least €200,000, and had asked for €25,000 to cover expenses. He later returned €10,000 of the advance.

“He insists that he has these contacts: he has given the police detailed descriptions of the CNI’s facilities,” says his lawyer, Víctor Sunkel. “What’s more, nobody just gatecrashes the king’s coronation.”

Francisco Nicolás Gómez-Iglesias, who the Spanish have dubbed “Little Nicolás,” comes from a middle-class family in Madrid’s northern Chamartín district, where he joined the PP’s youth wing when he was 15. He soon began to be seen with senior figures at exclusive places, including the VIP box at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu stadium. “He was always bragging about his contacts; he saw himself as a high-flyer, but a few months ago we began to hear rumors that he was getting into trouble,” says a PP source.

His Facebook page reads like a who’s who of the Popular Party, and includes photographs of Gómez-Iglesias with former Madrid regional government head Esperanza Aguirre, Madrid Mayor Ana Botella, and a number of leading business leaders.

His lawyers say his contacts with the Royal Household, the PP and even the secret service are all verifiable

But some senior PP figures began to ask under whose wing Gómez-Iglesias had been taken: “I would turn up to events, and there he was, sitting in the front row, while I had been put back in the third or fourth,” says one Madrid City Hall councilor. He was also a regular at meetings held by the FAES think-tank set up by José María Aznar.

Gómez-Iglesias, who is enrolled at one of Madrid’s top business schools, the CUNEF, used his supposed political connections to establish links with businesspeople connected to the PP. But sources in the party say that last year he appears to have overstepped the mark when he began trying to act as an intermediary, claiming that he could help companies win contracts with City Hall.

Senior party officials began distancing themselves from him. Gómez-Iglesias is believed to have used his association with Jaime García-Legaz, a former lecturer at CUNEF and subsequently secretary of state for trade, to open doors.

With Madrid Mayor Ana Botella.
With Madrid Mayor Ana Botella.

The security services began investigating Gómez-Iglesias last summer after he used social media to spread the word that King Juan Carlos was due to have lunch at a restaurant in Lugo, Galicia. But when local dignitaries turned up to meet the monarch, they only found Gómez-Iglesias dining with a businessman. According to El Mundo newspaper, the young man made the trip to Galicia in a Madrid City Hall vehicle escorted by municipal police. On Wednesday Madrid City Hall said an officer who had accompanied Goméz-Iglesias to Galicia had been relieved of his duties.

The media’s depiction of Gómez-Iglesias as some latter-day Walter Mitty now begins to look a little hasty. How did he manage to pay the fees at CUNEF as well as the costs of hiring luxury cars, complete with chauffeur? Then there is also the fact that he is registered as living in a €5,700-a-month property apparently owned by Prince Kyril, the son of former Bulgarian monarch Simeon II, in Madrid’s exclusive El Viso neighborhood. According to Gómez-Iglesias’ lawyers, the real estate company looking after the house had rented it out to a construction company that supposedly hired the young man to act as its public relations consultant.

I would turn up to events, and there he was, in the front row, while I was in the fourth”

Madrid City Hall councilor

The company, ACO, S.L., has admitted that the rental contract is in Gómez-Iglesias’ name and that he was permitted occasional use of the house, but it denies any kind of commercial and labor contract has ever existed between the two parties. Gómez-Iglesias organized lavish parties at the house complete with Japanese sushi chefs and an armed Filipino on the door, according to those who attended. The original owner of the house had no idea of what was going on there.

“All I can say is that I cannot understand how a young man aged just 20, simply on the basis of his verbal skills, has been able to access conferences and events without anybody raising any questions, even if he was a member of the PP’s youth wing,” said the judge overseeing the case.

Over the last week, several people known to have had business dealings with him have insisted that Gómez-Iglesias was who he said he was. “He could verify anything you asked him to; I even checked out his license plates,” says one person. Others say he had started saying that he would soon be retiring. Had something happened to make him realize that he had flown too high, too soon, and that a fall was in the offing?