The president of the Madrid region, Cristina Cifuentes, has resigned after a month of scandal culminated in the release of video footage apparently showing her being caught stealing face creams from a supermarket.
Once touted as a candidate to be Spain’s first female prime minister, Ms Cifuentes said on Wednesday that she was stepping aside after suffering a “lynching, day and night, from every quarter” in recent weeks.
The security video footage, made public by OK Diario newspaper, dates from 2011, when Ms Cifuentes was vice-president of the Madrid regional parliament for the conservative Popular Party (PP). It shows her being accompanied by a security guard into a room where she is asked to take out of her handbag two containers of face cream which she had not paid for. She eventually pays for the creams, which reportedly were worth around €40.
“I took it by mistake, they told me and when I was leaving I paid,” Ms Cifuentes said in her resignation statement, shortly after the video was made public and had gone viral.
She has not resigned as president of the Madrid PP.
Master’s degree allegations
The supermarket scandal follows detailed accusations made by another newspaper in March that Ms Cifuentes had obtained a master’s degree from a public university without attending classes or completing the coursework, and having signed on several months after the course began. The allegations also charged that senior figures in the university had colluded in an attempted cover-up.
Ms Cifuentes denied any wrongdoing related to her degree, claiming the scandal was a witch-hunt orchestrated by the political left, which was preparing a no-confidence motion to remove her from office.
But on Wednesday, she said that before the latest news broke she had been planning to resign next week due to the affair surrounding the degree.
“I’m stepping aside so that the left does not govern,” she said.
After several weeks during which the PP's support for the Madrid regional leader had at times seemed to falter without collapsing altogether, party leader and prime minister Mariano Rajoy welcomed the news.
“Cristina Cifuentes has done what she had to do,” he said. “I think her resignation was unavoidable in this situation.”
Questions are being asked about why the security video emerged seven years after being recorded, and who was behind its release. OK Diario’s links to the political right have raised suspicions that it was the PP itself which leaked the footage in order to ensure the departure of a high-profile politician who was becoming an embarrassment.
Ms Cifuentes appeared to hint that rivals within her own party had been involved in releasing the incriminating footage. She said the video had been circulating for some time and that she had contacted the police previously after being blackmailed with it.
A series of corruption cases has depleted senior ranks of the PP in Madrid in recent years, meaning the party is short of options to replace Ms Cifuentes, who was once seen as a possible successor to Mr Rajoy.