Prosecutors have found ‘no criminal offence’ in connection with Spanish president Pedro Sánchez’s PhD thesis and recommended the Supreme Court reject legal action filed by far-right political party Vox.
Deputy prosecutor of the Supreme Court, Luis Navajas, argues that the case brought by Vox is based ‘entirely on media reports’ and does not give ‘any additional concrete data’ of which the party ‘may have had knowledge’ and which would allow the plagiarism accusations to ‘fit in with the offence of simulation’ as defined by the Penal Code.
Vox’s claim was on the basis of an offence of forgery and corruption, the latter jointly for Sánchez’s having ‘illegally and fraudulently promoted’ his wife Begoña Gómez’s career in marketing.
Members accuse Sánchez of having ‘used his political and institutional power’ for Sra Gómez to appear on record as a master’s degree tutor in a State university ‘despite not having the required academic qualifications’.
The ‘forgery’ and ‘corruption’ allegations concerning Sánchez’s thesis ‘refer to journalistic news reports’ derived from ‘an extraordinarily vague and non-precise description of facts’.
As for claims of Sánchez’s abusing his position for his wife’s professional benefit, the prosecutor says these ‘merit little attention’ since they ‘lack a description of the facts alluded to’ and which could be ‘confronted and evaluated’ within the framework of the Penal Code.
The complaint against Sánchez ‘transcribes various Articles of the Penal Code’ in a manner which leaves it up to the court to ‘choose which ones would fit in’ with the ‘alleged actions of the defendant’ which ‘are either not described’, or are described ‘in such an inconsistent manner that they do not merit any consideration at all’.
Pedro’s PhD goes viral
Queues built up outside Madrid’s Camilo José Cela University in mid-September after Sánchez gave permission for his 342-page leatherbound hardbacked dissertation to be viewed following accusations of plagiarism in the right-wing newspaper ABC.
The president announced plans to take legal action against the reporters for libel, and was furious that they were ‘trashing’ his ‘many years of hard work’.
Also, the university was displeased with the allegations: it pointed out that doctoral students worked closely on their theses alongside two supervisors, and the finished piece was thoroughly reviewed by a panel in accordance with standard academic procedures before the title of PhD was granted.
“We have thoroughly reviewed the internal and external evaluation processes of the thesis presented by Dr Pedro Sánchez Castejón in the year 2012, and confirm the complete normality of the procedures in line with legislation in force and the habitual verification and control protocol of this institution,” said the university at the time.
Claims in ABC were made that the current national president, who was not a leader or even a high-profile figurehead in his party at the time, had benefited from ‘preferential treatment’ and that his PhD was awarded despite ‘most of it having been written’ by the celebrated economist Carlos Ocaña.
Ocaña, in response to the corruption allegations, said he worked with Dr Sánchez Castejón on co-authoring the book The New Spanish Economic Diplomacy after the PhD had been awarded, and which included sections from the thesis.
He said he only wrote ‘parts of some’ of the chapters, and the rest was based on the thesis, which is titled Spanish Economic Diplomacy: An Analysis of the Public Sector 2009-2012.
Series of ‘academic assaults’ on politicians
The case arose in the middle of multiple controversies surrounding master’s degree dissertations written by three other top-flight politicians who studied at Madrid’s Rey Juan Carlos University (URJC).
Former regional president of Madrid, Cristina Cifuentes (PP), resigned after Parliament was unsatisfied with her explanations that changes to her academic record, giving her grades for modules previously registered as ‘did not attend’, were an administration error, and that she would ‘happily’ show her dissertation in Congress, ‘if she could find it’.
The Supreme Court considers an admin error had indeed been committed but continues to investigate to confirm this.
Health minister Carmen Montón, who had given up her role as regional health boss in Valencia to join Sánchez’s cabinet, resigned after it came to light that 19 of the 52 pages of her master’s dissertation had been plagiarised and even included extracts from Wikipedia.
This said, even the most high-tech anti-plagiarism software used by universities can flag up a ‘match’ when this is not the case – in fact, the ‘matches’ found in Sánchez’s PhD were ‘plagiarisms’ of his own, subsequently-published book.
PP leader Pablo Casado has also come under the spotlight for allegedly being awarded a master’s degree which was incomplete or involved plagiarism, but has refused to speak to Parliament about it or to resign, insisting that if any criminal offence were to have been committed, it would now be statute-barred in any case.