With the crisis over the alleged irregularities in a master’s degree obtained by the Madrid regional premier showing no sign of abating, Cristina Cifuentes on Wednesday continued with her official duties, resisting the rising pressure for her to resign. Today saw the Popular Party (PP) politician make a surprise appearance at an event organized by the Terrorism Victims Association (AVT), and at which she was not expected to attend.
Sources close to Cifuentes said on Wednesday that the Madrid premier would only resign if called on to do so by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, also of the Popular Party (PP), and not on her own initiative. The same sources stated that Cifuentes is convinced that she has done nothing wrong with relation to her master’s degree, despite a mounting list of irregularities.
The master’s degree scandal that has been engulfing Cifuentes for several weeks now claimed its first casualty on Monday, when university professor Laura Nuño announced her resignation from the King Juan Carlos University (URJC).
Nuño stepped down from her position as deputy director of the Public Law Institute on Tuesday after declaring her signature on the validation certificates related to Cifuentes’ master’s degree was forged.
They have cheated me and I am leaving
Former deputy director of the Public Law Institute Laura Nuño
“[The signature] is not mine, and I don’t even recognize the document,” she told the Cadena SER radio network.
The document has been produced to prove that Cifuentes had obtained a master’s degree from the URJC in 2012 despite revelations she did not attend classes, take exams or defend her thesis – a copy of which no one has yet been able to produce.
“They have cheated me and I am leaving,” Nuño told EL PAÍS, hours after handing in her resignation.
Teachers at URJC say the scandal is hurting everyone in the university – not just those accused of fraud. “You can’t imagine the damage this is doing to us: seminars cancelled by speakers, publishing contracts with prestigious publishing houses postponed,” explained one professor on the condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, an internal investigation led by the Conference of Rectors of Spanish Universities (CRUE) has reached no conclusion as to whether Cifuentes fraudulently obtained the qualification and has left the case in the hands of prosecutors.
CRUE president Roberto Fernández did, however, say that there were “serious irregularities” in the affair and warned: “If a politician says they have a master’s and they don’t, that is reason for dismissal.”
Of the teachers implicated in the scandal – professor Enrique Álvarez Conde and lecturers Clara Souto and Cecilia Rosado – only Nuño has offered her testimony.
José Manuel Franco, secretary general of the Madrid regional Socialist Party (PSOE), described the findings of the internal investigation as “very half-hearted” and promised to push ahead with his party’s no-confidence motion against Cifuentes.
On Monday, Ciudadanos called for the resignation of the Popular Party (PP) leader and demanded they provide an alternative. The PP heads a minority government in the Madrid regional assembly and relies on the support of Ciudadanos. The PP said it would base its decision on the outcome of the internal investigation but has so far stood by the beleaguered leader, with PP spokesperson Ossorio Creso claiming there was “no reason” to ask Cifuentes to resign.
Ciudadanos chief Albert Rivera on Wednesday stepped up the pressure on Cifuentes when he stated at an event in Madrid that the PP is already seeking a substitute to lead the regional government for the remainder of the legislature. A possible candidate had been Pablo Casado, but EL PAÍS revealed earlier this week that he had studied for the same master’s degree as Cifuentes, and had also not had to attend class or submit a thesis. Both Casado and Cifuentes argue that this is what they were told to do by university tutors.
English version by Melissa Kitson.