Spanish PM Denies Plagiarism as Thesis Scandal Escalates

(Bloomberg) -- Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Thursday denied plagiarizing his doctoral thesis and threatened legal action against media reporting that he copied and pasted sections of the text.

“The information that has appeared in certain media that claims the existence of plagiarism in the writing of my doctoral thesis is categorically false,” Sanchez wrote on Twitter. He said he’ll take legal action unless the reports are retracted.

ABC newspaper reported earlier that Sanchez’s thesis on Spanish economic policy included paragraphs copied from an article by two other economists and also lifted sections of a Powerpoint presentation by ex-Industry Minister Miguel Sebastian. The thesis, published in 2012 when the prime minister was an economics professor in Madrid, has been the focus of speculation for months and was only accessible in paper form to those who visited the library at Camila Jose Cela University.

“The prime minister can’t sit back while they accuse him of something that is serious, if it were true,” Foreign Minister Josep Borrell told Onda Cero radio in an interview Thursday. “He has every right to defend himself.”

Officials Quit

Sanchez is getting dragged into a growing scandal about academic cheating that has already seen two senior officials resign this year. The controversy threatens to derail his three-month-old minority government, already struggling to push through a budget with just 84 lawmakers in the 350-strong parliament.

Sanchez was visibly irritated in Congress on Wednesday, shaking his head and wagging his finger at opposition Ciudadanos party leader Albert Rivera after he called for Sanchez to make the thesis more accessible to the public in order to clear doubts. Rivera on Thursday reiterated his call and said Sanchez needed to explain himself.

“He needs to come to parliament to explain from top to bottom whether he did that thesis himself, if there is plagiarism in that thesis, how that thesis was done, who was on the panel and if they have any connection with his party,” Rivera said at an event in Madrid.

Sanchez came to power in June promising to clean up Spanish politics after the previous administration became mired in graft allegations.

In a separate report on Thursday, news website OK Diario said that Carlos Ocana, a former government economist, had drafted sections of the thesis without being credited. Ocana denied the reports in a statement to Efe newswire. Ocana and Sanchez collaborated on a book based on the thesis that was published after the premier received his doctorate.

The issue of politicians getting an easy ride in graduate courses dominated the agenda on Wednesday when Health Minister Carmen Monton quit following reports that raised doubts about the validity of her master’s degree. Madrid Regional President Cristina Cifuentes resigned in April, while opposition leader Pablo Casado has also faced calls to step down after similar questions were raised about his academic record.

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

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