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Podemos senator who profited from public housing sale was “lucky”

Party leader Pablo Iglesias defends Ramón Espinar, who made €20,000 from sale of subsidized home

Ramon Espinar
Ramón Espinar addresses the media in Madrid.

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias has put down to “good luck” the fact that a fellow party member made €20,000 on the sale of a subsidized home in 2010.

News of the sale has created a public outcry because Ramón Espinar, who was not yet a Podemos senator, has been an outspoken critic of speculation with public housing in the Madrid region.

Repugnant, the mud machine used to influence our primaries. They will not domesticate us

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias

On Wednesday, Espinar admitted that he purchased a subsidized home in Alcobendas, north of Madrid, and resold it just months after signing the title deed in March 2010.

The sale earned him profits of around €20,000 after tax and other expenses.

On Thursday night, Pablo Iglesias said that Espinar simply got lucky that the price of public housing rose between 2007 (when he made his first down payment on the apartment) and 2011.

“This does not allow us to censor someone’s behavior in ethical terms, or to say that he is being inconsistent,” said Iglesias, suggesting that the news coverage is part of a concerted media effort to influence an upcoming vote to renew Podemos’ leadership in Madrid. Espinar is a candidate to lead the regional branch, and has Iglesias’ support.

Ramón Espinar (l) inside the Madrid Assembly on Thursday.
Ramón Espinar (l) inside the Madrid Assembly on Thursday. EFE

Not on any records

Official government sources have also confirmed that Espinar never signed up to the Young Housing Program, a requirement for people wishing to apply for a subsidized home in the region.

At his Wednesday press conference, Espinar stated that he had signed up for the program before being awarded a home in Alcobendas, north of Madrid. But sources in the regional government deny the claim.

“He doesn’t show up on any registers. If he obtained it [the apartment] in Alcobendas, that’s because the cooperative awarded it to him directly,” said the source, alluding to the 15% of units that the developer, Vitra, reserved for discretionary distribution. Under a deal with the town of Alcobendas, the other 85% had to go to local residents.

Speculating is speculating. And doing so with subsidized housing is still speculating

Former United Left leader Cayo Lara

Espinar’s father, Ramón Espinar Gallego, was then a Socialist leader and a member of the board of the powerful regional savings bank Caja Madrid. One of his fellow board members was then-mayor of Alcobendas José Caballero.

Ramón Espinar Gallego is currently under judicial investigation over a scandal at Caja Madrid involving secret credit cards extended to board members for personal use. Between 2003 and 2010, he allegedly spent over €170,000 on funds drawn from his card. The case is currently at the trial stage.

Legal sale

While the sale of the apartment was legal – Espinar requested permission, alleging that he could not afford the monthly mortgage of €580 after making a down payment of €52,000 – it has drawn accusations of speculation with a property that was meant as affordable housing for the underprivileged.

Because subsidized homes cannot be sold without permission from regional authorities, on August 20, 2010 Espinar filed a petition to sell the property for €140,313.35.

The petition was granted, but five months later, Espinar sold the property for €175,126,12, or 25% above this stated asking price. Under regional legislation, the maximum sale price for a subsidized housing unit at the time was around €176,000.

A media conspiracy?

Podemos leaders have closed ranks around Espinar, playing down the relevance of the property sale and claiming that it is part of a conspiracy by “the power groups,” in the words of Pablo Iglesias.

The story was broken by the Cadena SER radio station, part of the PRISA Group (owner of EL PAÍS). This fact prompted Podemos Secretary General Pablo Iglesias to rail against “the mud machine,” borrowing an expression from the Italian writer and semiologist Umberto Eco.

“Repugnant, the mud machine [used] to influence our primaries. They will not domesticate us,” he tweeted.

But Cayo Lara, a former leader of the United Left – which ran in tandem with Podemos at the last election – was openly critical of the property sale.

“Speculating is speculating. And doing so with subsidized housing is still speculating, whether the fact is underscored by Agamemnon or by his swine handler,” he said, citing the Spanish poet Antonio Machado.

English version by Susana Urra.

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