Spanish Health Minister Carmen Montón was forced to quit last night after mounting irregularities emerged regarding a master’s degree she had studied for at Madrid’s King Juan Carlos University (URJC) in 2011. The institution has been at the center of a series of scandals, which have involved current Popular Party (PP) leader Pablo Casado, and former Madrid regional premier Cristina Cifuentes, also of the PP. The latter was also forced to step down over her master’s degree, among other matters.
A story published earlier this week by Spanish online newspaper eldiario.es revealed that Montón’s grades had been altered in the university’s online system. Montón did not pass all parts of the masters’ course in June 2011, which is when she should have finished her studies. According to her student records, at least one part of the coursework was marked as “not submitted.”
The revelation that her final thesis contained sections that had been plagiarized was the final straw
On November 25, 2011, “someone entered the IT system” of the URJC and changed “not submitted” to a “pass,” despite the fact that the administrative procedures for the course had been closed, according to eldiario.es. This alleged modification of the grades outside of the deadline would explain why Montón’s official certificate states that she completed the course in 2012.
The minister had stated that she handed over her final thesis on gender studies in June 2011, something that would have been irregular since at the time she had not completed all of the coursework – an essential requisite.
On Tuesday morning Montón insisted that she had not done anything wrong, voicing the same arguments used by Cifuentes and Casado over their suspect master’s degrees – i.e. that they had done everything they had been told to by the university.
PSOE Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez had, until last night, backed the minister. But the revelation that her final thesis contained sections that had been plagiarized was the final straw.
The work is entitled “Assisted reproduction. A liberation or a setback in equality,” and is 55 pages long. EL PAÍS has had access to it, and has confirmed that whole pages and paragraphs are copied from other theses and articles that are freely available on the internet – even containing texts lifted from Wikipedia.
For example, practically the entire first chapter is the same as an article entitled “New identity,” written by Mexican Mónica Pérez, in an article dated July 26, 2004.
The episode is an embarrassing one for Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who came to power earlier this year after ousting PP Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in a vote of no confidence, precisely due to the corruption scandals that were plaguing the party.
“I have been transparent and honest,” Montón told the press last night after announcing her resignation. “I have not committed any irregularity.” She went on to praise Sánchez, and stated that she was quitting so as not to cause him damage.
She also highlighted the work that she had done as health minister in the first 100 days of the Sánchez government. “We have brought back universal healthcare. We have laid the foundation for the approval of a law for protection against childhood violence. This is a good result for the first 100 days,” she stated.
Montón will be replaced by María Luisa Carcedo, who was until now the high commissioner against child poverty.
Montón is the second minister to have to quit in the first 100 days of the Sánchez administration. Culture and Sports Minister Màxim Huerta resigned in June after just a week on the job, after the media reported that he withheld taxes in the early 2000s and was recently forced to pay €365,000 in back taxes, late fees and fines.
In late April, Cristina Cifuentes of the Popular Party (PP) was forced to step down due to irregularities in connection with a master's degree that she obtained in 2012 from King Juan Carlos University. That case has led to a criminal investigation into forgery of public documents by officials at the public university.
And the current leader of the PP, Pablo Casado, is under fire for a similar degree obtained from the same institution in 2009. So far he has refused to hand over his final dissertation, and has stated that he will not resign even if the Supreme Court, which is investigating the case, decides to charge him.
English version by Simon Hunter.