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Spanish science minister Pedro Duque claims no wrongdoing over house purchase

The astronaut, who was one of the prime minister’s star Cabinet picks, has been accused of using a holding company to buy his properties in a bid to avoid taxes

Science Minister Pedro Duque during today’s press conference.
Science Minister Pedro Duque during today’s press conference. EL PAÍS

Spain’s science minister, the astronaut Pedro Duque, today denied having committed any tax irregularities with the 2005 purchase of a property in the Valencian coastal town of Jávea. Duque bought the house via a holding company that he had set up.

“My understanding is that this was not avoiding any taxes,” he told reporters at a press conference on Thursday. “We have filed our returns and we have paid everything,” he said in reference to himself and his wife.

The minister explained on Thursday that he had made the purchase on the recommendation of business consultants

The minister –  who made history as the first Spaniard to have traveled into space – explained on Thursday that he had made the purchase in this way on the recommendation of business consultants, and that there had been “no real tax saving of any kind” by doing it through a company, which he also uses to administrate his residence in Madrid. The purpose of the company is the “promotion, construction and sale of properties” as well as “management and consultancy of real estate transactions.”

Duque was forced to convene the press conference after the story was broken by Spanish online news site Ok Diario. The episode could prove embarrassing for the new Socialist Party (PSOE) Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, whose pick for culture minister, Màxim Huerta, was forced to quit in June after just a week in the role after it emerged that he had evaded €256,778 in taxes between the years 2006 and 2008.

What’s more, Sánchez’s justice minister, Dolores Delgado, has been under pressure to quit this week after compromising audio recordings of a lunch she attended in 2009 with a former Spanish police chief named José Manuel Villarejo were published by online news site Moncloa.com. Sánchez himself was recently in the midst of a scandal over alleged plagiarism in his doctoral thesis and irregularities in a book that he published. That incident closely followed the resignation of his health minister, Carmen Montón, also related to irregularities in her academic record.

It was legal and I am up to date with all of my fiscal obligations. I don’t know where an ethical question could come into it

Pedro Duque

Sánchez came to power when he won a no-confidence motion against former Popular Party (PP) Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, precisely over the corruption cases that had plagued the conservative group. Duque was one of his star picks for his Cabinet.

But today Duque was adamant that he had done no wrong, and that his case was different from that of Màxim Huerta. He stated that he had been “completely scrupulous” and that the company had “not billed any income” that corresponded to him or his wife. The company’s income, he explained, came from a time period in which he was paying rent to the firm for living in the property. But, he said, he does not believe that he behaved in an inappropriate way at any point.

“I don’t think there is any ethical consideration here,” he told reporters during a press conference at which he was visibly nervous. “A transaction that was promoted by the government [of PSOE Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero] was carried out during the [real estate] boom times. It was legal and I am up to date with all of my fiscal obligations. I don’t know where an ethical question could come into it.”

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez stated in a 2015 television interview that if anyone in the leadership of the party had “a company so that they could halve their taxes,” he would throw them out the next day. Despite being a minister in Sánchez’s government, Duque is not actually a member of the PSOE.

The leader of center-right group Ciudadanos, Albert Rivera, said today on Spanish television: “Sánchez filed his vote of no confidence to set an example. If that’s where you set the bar, then any of your ministers who have any kind of tax issue need to go. If Duque had been a minister for Rajoy, what would Pedro Sánchez have said then?”

English version by Simon Hunter.

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