Jose Maria Ruiz-Mateos: Spanish tycoon who was no stranger to court appearances facing paternity lawsuit - despite being dead

An American woman is claiming she is the secret child of General Franco's exemplary entrepreneur who died this week

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The Independent Online

During his life, he was already embroiled in an estimated 1,500 court cases over his shady financial dealings. And even after dying earlier this week aged 84, one of Spain’s most controversial business personalities, Jose Maria Ruiz-Mateos, is back on trial again – over a paternity lawsuit.

A court in Pozuelo de Alarcon, a well-heeled town near Madrid, has confirmed that the lawsuit filed by Adela Montedesca claiming that she was the secret daughter of Mr Ruiz-Mateos means his remains cannot be incinerated until DNA samples have been taken.

Deeply religious and a former member of Opus Dei, Mr Ruiz-Mateos, whose funeral took place earlier this week, was married with 13 children. However, Ms Montedesca, an American citizen, reportedly claimed last year that her mother, Patricia, had a romance with Mr Ruiz-Mateos in the early 1990s.

Whatever the verdict on the case, it will be far from the first time Mr Ruiz-Mateos has been cited in a Spanish court. The 1970s poster-boy for General Franco’s regime as an exemplary entrepreneur, Mr Ruiz-Mateos was later the disgraced central figure of one of Spain’s greatest modern-day financial scandals.

Mr Ruiz-Mateos started out as a small-time businessman selling sherry before his financial talents – combined with excellent backroom connections with key figures from the Franco regime and, it is said, Opus Dei – allowed him to build up the dictatorship’s biggest business empire, Rumasa.

 

Created in 1961, at its height Rumasa boasted 18 banks, 65,000 employees and 400 companies all interlinked through precarious financial pyramid schemes.

Ever ready with a soundbite, Mr Ruiz-Mateos claimed “When I create 100,000 jobs, I will be ready to die.” But after Franco’s death, Rumasa was increasingly regarded as a business giant with feet of clay – and the sole responsibility of one of his many employees was reportedly to dream up credible-sounding names for non-existent shell companies.

The increasing risk of Rumasa destabilising the Spanish economy was such that by 1983, the Socialist government, having found a vast hole in its finances, opted for its expropriation. Mr Ruiz-Mateos, facing charges of tax fraud, fled to Frankfurt via London, and after being extradited, began a long campaign to prove he was a victim of a political conspiracy.

After escaping from court in 1988 wearing a wig and raincoat, and serving time for embezzlement, Mr Ruiz-Mateos’ conviction he was politically persecuted was such that in 1989 he attempted to punch the Finance Minister Miguel Boyer, famously yelling, “I’m going to give you what for” as he did so. The court cases for financial offences though, continued to mount up, and were estimated to total 1,500 by his death.

The police would turn up with arrest warrants to find the ever-media conscious Mr Ruiz Mateos alternatively clad in a Superman outfit, a prison uniform, Rayo Vallecano kit – the top Madrid club he purchased in 1991 for his wife, Teresa Rivero – or bearing a massive Easter Week cross to symbolise his legal crucifixion.

Having flirted with politics in the late 1980s, garnered 600,000 votes in an election and a spell as a EU MP for his own party (thereby conveniently, if briefly, gaining legal immunity), Mr Ruiz-Mateos created a new financial empire, Nueva Rumasa in 2011. Nueva Rumasa quickly ran aground, though, as the non-payments to small-scale private investors, 5,000 of whom had provided €380m to his new venture, multiplied inexorably.

Many of the investors, local people from Mr Ruiz-Mateos’ home region, remain unpaid, which could explain the remarkably poor turnout for his funeral early this week.

“If my investors are not repaid I will shoot myself in the head,” he once famously said before adding, rather lamely, “but in any case, my religious beliefs wouldn’t let me do that.”

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