Spanish Health Minister Quits in Widening Scandal

(Bloomberg) -- A widening scandal over degrees granted by a Madrid university has cost the country’s health minister her job, weakening the new government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

Carmen Monton announced her resignation late Tuesday after news reports raised doubts about the validity of her master’s degree from the King Juan Carlos University. The controversy rippled through the Spanish parliament on Wednesday as Alberto Rivera, the leader of the opposition Ciudadanos party, challenged Sanchez to publish his own doctoral thesis to set aside “reasonable doubts” about it.

Monton’s departure deals a blow to Sanchez who unseated his predecessor, Mariano Rajoy, in June by forcing a confidence vote in parliament as a backlash against political corruption gained momentum. However, the degrees scandal has also tainted the People’s Party with Pablo Casado, Rajoy’s successor as leader, also facing questions over his own master’s from the same university that granted the qualification to Monton.

Sanchez was awarded a doctorate in economics from Camilo Jose Cela University in 2012. He told Rivera his degree was posted on a database for doctoral theses in line with regulations.

As the controversy ripples through the political establishment, Rivera, a university drop-out, may end up a winner because so far no senior official from his party has been implicated. Rivera has made opposition to the independence campaign in Catalonia the centerpiece of the appeal to Spaniards of Ciudadanos, the fourth-biggest party in the Spanish parliament.

Monton was put on the defensive earlier this week by reports in the Eldiario.es, a news website, that she received her qualification even though she didn’t go to classes or have contact with her professors. Broadcaster LaSexta reported that sections of her final degree document had appeared in other documents before she used them.

Maria Luisa Carcedo, the high commissioner for the campaign to tackle child poverty, will replace Monton, the government said in an emailed statement Tuesday.

Monton said she had always been “transparent and honest.” Hours earlier, Sanchez had said she was doing a magnificent job and would continue in her post.

Her decision to quit comes after questions over master’s degrees awarded by King Juan Carlos University also hit senior People’s Party politicians.

A Madrid judge investigating whether Casado broke the law in the way he obtained a master’s from the university elevated the case to the Supreme Court, saying there were indications of wrong-doing. Casado said at the time he had been transparent throughout the process and would continue to help with the probe.

Spanish politicians have come under increased scrutiny of their academic qualifications after prosecutors also began a preliminary probe into possible irregularities relating to a master’s degree awarded by the same university to Cristina Cifuentes, the former Madrid regional president. Cifuentes, also a member of the People’s Party, resigned her post in April.

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