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Spanish PM threatens legal action over claims he plagiarized his doctoral thesis

Pedro Sánchez announced on Thursday that the document will be made available online

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. AP

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has threatened to take legal action after news reports claimed that he had plagiarized other works for his doctoral thesis. Sánchez stated that it is “completely untrue” that his thesis is not original, saying that he would take legal action in “defense” of his “honor and dignity.”

Sánchez’s thesis is not available online, on his request, but can be consulted in a hard copy at a private university

The Spanish daily ABC published a story on Thursday claiming that Sánchez had copied entire paragraphs from other authors. The digital newspaper OK Diario stated on Wednesday that the economist Carlos Ocaña had written practically the entire academic work, for which Sánchez was awarded the highest possible grade.

Ocaña has denied that he contributed any work to the thesis, but in a statement made to Spanish news agency EFE he explained that he did subsequently “collaborate with Pedro Sánchez on the book The New Spanish Economic Diplomacy, as that publication makes clear.” The book, Ocaña continued, “is based on the thesis of the prime minister, and I merely wrote parts of some chapters.”

In response to the claims, Sánchez posted a lengthy Facebook message on Thursday announcing that he would be making the thesis public. “To facilitate further access to my thesis, which has been on [public online academic documentation system] Teseo for months, it will be opened up to total access at some point tomorrow,” the prime minister wrote in the post.

This week, Sánchez’s health minister, Carmen Montón, was forced to quit after similar doubts emerged over her master’s degree

“I wrote the thesis, I met all the steps set out by the law, I defended it before a panel, I published the contributions of the research in academic magazines and in a general-interest book,” the message continues. The PM accused the Popular Party (PP) of not accepting the fact that they are now in the opposition. “Lacking a solid political project, and given their lack of proposals to rally the social majority in the country, conservative and neo-conservative forces have joined in a campaign to sully my name,” he said, in reference to the PP and center-right group Ciudadanos. “No matter how much they try to discredit me, I am proud of my university thesis. They will not sully something that cost me so much effort.”

First doubts

The accusations about Sánchez’s thesis were first voiced publicly in Congress on Wednesday by the leader of the Ciudadanos party, Albert Rivera. “There are reasonable doubts about your doctoral thesis,” he said to the PM during the debate. “Why are you hiding it?”

Sánchez’s thesis is not available online, on his request, but can be consulted in a hard copy at a private university in Madrid. On Wednesday the library where it is stored was flooded by visits from journalists, who were permitted to read the document, but not take copies of the text or remove it from the location.

On Thursday Rivera stepped up the pressure on the prime minister, calling him to appear in Congress to explain himself. “He has to face the music, instead of announcing lawsuits,” he said. “He needs to come forward and explain every detail of whether he wrote that thesis, if there is plagiarism in that thesis, and who was on the panel [that assessed the academic work].”

Other cases

The issue of Spanish politicians’ academic credentials has been in the headlines for months, after doubts emerged earlier this year over master’s degrees taken by former Madrid regional premier Cristina Cifuentes and current PP leader Pablo Casado at Madrid’s King Juan Carlos University. The former was forced to quit over the irregularities, while the latter denies any wrongdoing but is currently being investigated by the Supreme Court over the issue. The PSOE has called on Casado to quit over the matter, something that he has stated he won’t do.

This week, Sánchez’s health minister, Carmen Montón, was forced to step down after similar doubts emerged over her master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Gender Studies. She initially claimed to have done nothing wrong, using the same arguments as Cifuentes and Casado – i.e. that she had followed all the indications given to her by the university. But she was forced to resign on Tuesday night after it emerged that she had plagiarized parts of her end-of-course thesis from articles freely available on the internet and online encyclopedia Wikipedia.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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