Luis Rubiales’ dramatic return to Spain: Wiretaps, corruption allegations and an airport arrest

Wednesday was another dramatic day in the saga involving former Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) president Luis Rubiales, as an investigation into alleged corruption during his term from 2018 to 2023 gathers pace.

The 46-year-old was detained by police officers and questioned about his role in potential crimes of money laundering and misuse of RFEF funds. Investigators believe Rubiales and a number of his associates were involved in a number of different schemes linking Spain, the Dominican Republic, Saudi Arabia and China.

Rubiales resigned as RFEF president in September, having already been provisionally suspended by FIFA for his behaviour after Spain won the 2023 Women’s World Cup, when he held his crotch in celebration just a few seats down from Queen Letizia and the 16-year-old Princess Sofia of Spain, before grabbing star forward Jenni Hermoso by the head and kissing her on the lips during the medal ceremony.

For his kiss on Hermoso, Rubiales is to go on trial on charges of alleged sexual assault and coercion (which he has always denied), with prosecutors seeking a two-and-a-half-year jail term.

Here, The Athletic explains the latest dramatic developments in Spanish football’s growing crisis, and the potential consequences for Rubiales and the RFEF.

Why was Rubiales detained on Wednesday?

On March 20, Guardia Civil officers — one of Spain’s two national police forces — raided RFEF headquarters at Las Rozas near Madrid, as well as other locations across the country. Seven arrests were made — five in Madrid and two in Granada — as part of a judicial investigation codenamed ‘Operacion Brodie’ (after Englishman John Alexander Brodie, an Everton fan who pioneered the use of football nets in the late 19th century and worked for a while in Bilbao).

Rubiales’ property in Granada was among those raided, but at the time he was in the Dominican Republic. He had initially planned to return to Spain on April 6 (this Saturday), when he knew he would face questioning. However, he brought forward his flight after Unidad Central Operativa (UCO) officers from the Guardia Civil searched his home in the Punta Cana resort on Monday and Tuesday, seizing his telephone and tablet computer.

More UCO agents were waiting for Rubiales to land at Madrid-Barajas airport on Wednesday morning. They immediately detained and questioned him, with footage broadcast by Spanish TV station La Sexta showing him being led away from a plane on the tarmac and into a black minivan.

This disappointed 50+ reporters waiting inside the terminal building for a glimpse of Rubiales on his return to Spanish soil. There was a light moment when photographers rushed into action as a man with a vague resemblance to the shaven-headed former RFEF president emerged from the baggage claim area. “You’ve been stung,” joked the passenger.

Away from the cameras, Rubiales was taken to a Guardia Civil facility within the airport, where he was questioned and fingerprinted. Accompanied by his lawyer, Rubiales invoked his right not to testify and was released, knowing he would soon be called to speak in front of judge Delia Rodriguez in a court in the Madrid suburb of Majadahonda — just as happened with those arrested back in March.

What do we know about Operacion Brodie?

Recent days have seen more details made public of the judicial investigation into Rubiales’ time in charge of the RFEF, which was set in motion by a legal complaint in May 2022 to the Majadahonda court by Miguel Angel Galan (who in October spoke in depth with The Athletic) about the deal with Gerard Pique’s company Kosmos to play the Supercopa de Espana in Saudi Arabia. Pique and Kosmos are adamant that deal was all above board.


Miguel Galan: The man who first took on Luis Rubiales and Spain’s football powers

The current investigation centres on other potential issues. These include the alleged misuse of over €500,000 (£428,720; $543,500 at current rates) from contracts for construction work at the Estadio de la Cartuja in Seville, where the Spain national team often play games and the venue of this Saturday’s Copa del Rey final.

Among those named in the documents are Rubiales and associates including RFEF former external legal advisor Tomas Gonzalez Cueto, Rubiales’ close friend and business partner Francisco Javier Martin (widely known as Nene), and brothers Angel Gonzalez Segura, director of building company Gruconsa and Pedro Gonzalez Segura, the former RFEF legal director.

GettyImages 2103920168 scaled

Tomas Gonzalez Cueto (wearing cap and glasses) arriving at the Majadahonda court in March (Alejandro Martinez Velez/Europa Press via Getty Images)

Gonzalez Cueto and the Gonzalez Segura brothers were among those arrested and questioned last month, and hotels in the Urban Dream chain owned by Nene were among the properties raided. The RFEF immediately cut all ties with Gonzalez Cueto, and Pedro Gonzalez Segura was fired from his legal director position.

Documents, including transcriptions of intercepted phone conversations from the ‘Operacion Brodie’ investigation, which The Athletic has been able to access, have been widely reported in the Spanish media. These say that Gruconsa was paid €3,833,085.62 for construction work at the Estadio de la Cartuja, with some of that money coming from public funds administered by the Andalusian regional government. According to the Guardia Civil investigators, at least €530,911.92 of that money was instead channelled through a series of companies.

Investigators believe that RFEF money was also being used for investments in the Dominican Republic, where Rubiales has been living. Evidence has been gathered of suspicious payments being made between accounts controlled by Rubiales and others, and large amounts of cash being transported by associates between Spain and the Caribbean Island.

Such evidence was acquired by Guardia Civil agents after bugging the phones of some of those under suspicion. One of the audio transcripts detailed in a recent case summary document appears to refer to a past deal to train young footballers in China, with 20 per cent of the value of the contract to be shared between Rubiales and an unnamed associate. Also mentioned is a “macro project” in Saudi Arabia, with plans for a 400,000 square metre development including a football stadium, training centre and hotel, in which Gruconsa, Nene and Rubiales were all involved.

The investigating judge has also blocked 52 bank accounts, including some belonging to Rubiales, Gonzalez Cueto and Nene. Also seized by the police were a Mercedes car belonging to Rubiales, and a Porsche belonging to Nene.

What has Rubiales said about all these allegations?

Wednesday night saw the airing of an interview with Rubiales on Spanish TV station La Sexta.

The interview was recorded on Tuesday in Punta Cana, after Rubiales’ house there was searched by the Guardia Civil, and just hours before he boarded a plane to return to Spain.

Rubiales told reporter Ana Pastor of show ‘El Objetivo’ that he has known about an investigation into his finances for “four or five months”, while in December he was informed by his Spanish bank that he had to close his account with them. He also said he had opened accounts in the Dominican Republic “two or three months ago”, as he wanted to start doing business because it was now impossible for him to work in Spain. He said these accounts were blocked on Monday.

“All the money I have transferred from Spain to the Dominican Republic is legal,” Rubiales said. “I’ve never taken a “mordida” (literally a ‘bite’, meaning an illegal commission). I’ve suffered such a media beating that I cannot work in Spain, from football or anything else.”

Rubiales also denied that he was planning to move into the hotel business in Saudi Arabia and claimed even his attempt to launch an NFT with a South Korean company had been impossible due to the damage his reputation has suffered. He had previously claimed the NFT launch was entirely sold out — which was not true.

Rubiales said his long time friend Nene was a legitimate businessman, and that there were no problems with the €24million commission paid to Kosmos for its work as an intermediary in the deal to move the Supercopa to Saudi Arabia. He said he had no involvement at the construction company Gruncosa. “My right-hand man’s brother works there? I have many right hands,” he said.

What did Rubiales say about Hermoso?

Rubiales grabbed Hermoso by the head and kissed her on the lips after Spain’s World Cup final win over England on August 20 in Sydney, Australia, as she received her winner’s medal. Hermoso has testified that the kiss was not consensual, and that attempts were made to force her into saying the opposite.

No date has yet been set for Rubiales’ trial, with then-Spain women’s head coach Jorge Vilda, ex-RFEF marketing manager Ruben Rivera and former RFEF men’s national team director Albert Luque — the ex-Newcastle United striker — also facing charges of coercion, which they deny.



FIFA’s Rubiales report: Bronze, FA row and ‘The Genitals Incident’

Rubiales said during the interview aired on Wednesday, as he has done in other interviews on British channel TalkTV and with far-right Spanish YouTuber Luis ‘Alvise’ Perez, that he had done nothing wrong and suggested he was in fact the injured party.

“From the images, I cannot understand how anyone could think it is a sexual aggression,” Rubiales told Pastor. Asked if his defence against charges is to attack Hermoso, he replied that she had acted in a “manipulative way”, adding: “She said that it was nothing, then gave another version (to the investigators).”

What about the future for the RFEF?

Wednesday was also a dramatic day for those still at the Spanish football federation, which has been run since Rubiales’s departure by his handpicked successor, Pedro Rocha.

On Wednesday evening, the RFEF announced (seven months after Rubiales’ resignation) that elections for a permanent successor would be held on May 6.

However, that still depends on the approval of the Spanish government’s Tribunal Administrativo del Deporte (TAD), which is currently hearing more complaints brought by Galan, including over the make-up of the 140-strong assembly that gets to vote, and on whether Rocha can present himself as a candidate.

Most within Spanish football had assumed that Rocha was a shoo-in to win the election, as he had strong support from the assembly, which was chosen during Rubiales’ term. The former president’s associates have continued to be influential under Rocha’s leadership, including Gonzalez Cueto, who was only cut by the RFEF after he was arrested in March.

GettyImages 2046601982 scaled

Rocha (white hair) pictured congratulating Hermoso after Spain’s Nations League success in February (David Ramos/Getty Images)

Rubiales said in the interview aired on Wednesday by La Sexta that he no longer had any contact with Rocha or anyone else at the federation.

“I think I spoke once (with Rocha) by phone, I don’t remember, three months ago, five months ago… I’ve moved away,” he said. “I’ve not wanted anything to do with the elections.”

However, according to reports in the Spanish media, Operacion Brodie documents suggest his relationship with Gonzalez Cueto and other figures at the federation continued until much more recently.

For example, investigators believe that phone conversations in which Gonzalez Cueto pressured Fernando Molinero, chief of staff of Spain’s sports minister Jose Manuel Rodriguez Uribes, not to change the RFEF’s electoral process so that insiders could continue to dominate, were made on Rubiales’s behalf.

“Come on, Fernando, be good to me. Don’t make me kneel,” Gonzalez Cueto is quoted as saying in the audio transcript collated by Guardia Civil officers, which The Athletic has had access to.

Molinero told Spanish media outlet Relevo on Wednesday that it was normal for RFEF officials to call him to plead their case, but the TAD were independent, as their rulings showed.

An RFEF statement on Wednesday tried to put more distance between its current leadership and Rubiales and his ‘clan’. It said it would “initiate criminal proceedings against all those who have caused economic or reputational damage to this institution”. It also said it had “given the green light to the forensic audit that will allow gathering information on the actions that are being investigated during the period 2018-2023”.

At same time, the new interim leader chosen to oversee the new presidential election is Rafael del Amo, who was in charge of women’s football at the federation through Rubiales’ time in charge, including when many of the senior team refused to play under Vilda.

On Thursday, it was unclear whether Rocha would attend Saturday’s Copa del Rey final between Athletic Bilbao and Mallorca at the Cartuja stadium — which was also raided by police agents a fortnight ago.

(Top photo: Thomas Coex/AFP via Getty Images)

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top