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OPERATION PÚNICA

Madrid PP mayoral hopeful Aguirre’s campaign aide targeted in Púnica case

Isabel Gallego under scrutiny over use of public money for work to improve officials’ images

Esperanza Aguirre with Isabel Gallego (right). Ampliar foto
Esperanza Aguirre with Isabel Gallego (right).

The campaign press chief for Popular Party (PP) Madrid mayoral candidate Esperanza Aguirre has been summoned to appear before the High Court next month as an official target of the Púnica corruption investigation, a major bid-rigging scheme that is alleged to have been in place in Madrid, Valencia, Murcia and León.

Isabel Gallego, who is also media chief to Madrid premier Ignacio González and head of communication for the regional PP, was on Friday asked to report for questioning at Civil Guard headquarters in Tres Cantos. According to Gallego herself, she exercised her right not to make a statement given that she would soon have to do so before the High Court.

Aguirre said she would maintain Gallego as publicity and media head of the PP’s Madrid local and regional elections campaign

Former Madrid premier Aguirre, who is also the head of the PP’s Madrid branch, said she would maintain Gallego as publicity and media head of the party campaign for this May’s local and regional elections, Europa Press reported.

Investigators are interested in a number of contracts totaling €60,000 signed by alleged Púnica fixer Alejandro de Pedro Llorca. Judicial sources say there are telephone conversations linking Gallego to the payment of public money for work to improve the online image of officials in the Madrid regional government.

The contract under scrutiny was for the compiling of reports about news items relating to the Madrid region, its premier, and other officials that appeared on the social networks.

One of Aguirre’s closest and most loyal aides, Gallego has confirmed that the reports were carried out and were sent to her “monthly by email and I have deleted them.” She said that she had supplied the messages that she and her colleagues exchanged with De Pedro and that they were now “checking the computers so we can recover the reports.”

Sources close to Gallego said the contract was canceled after Alejandro de Pedro Llorca was targeted in the Púnica investigation last October.

The PP’s Madrid election campaign director Iñigo Henríquez de Luna defended Gallego’s “honesty and professionalism,” adding that the contracts she signed were “completely legal” and properly supervised by legal services and the regional government comptroller's office.

Gallego’s summons comes after the analysis of contracts and invoices signed between the Madrid administration and companies linked to the Púnica network. The documents were seized by Civil Guard officers from three regional government headquarters last January on the orders of investigating High Court judge Eloy Velasco.

The Púnica ring is believed to have unlawfully awarded as much as €250 million in public contracts, whose beneficiaries had been predetermined by alleged ringleaders Francisco Granados, a former senior official in the Madrid regional government, and his childhood friend, constructor David Marjaliza.

Both men have been in preventive prison since October 27 following a Civil Guard raid against the ring that resulted in the arrests of 51 people, including six mayors of Madrid municipalities and the head of León’s provincial authority.

Gallego has been media chief in the Madrid regional government since 2003 when she arrived under then-premier Aguirre. She previously worked as a journalist at Abc newspaper.