Ruiz Mateos, one of Spains most flamboyant businessmen has died at the age of 84. He had been in hospital since June, when he was remanded without bail ahead of massive tax evasion charges.
José Maria was a man who made and lost two fortunes. His first fortune was amassed during the heady first days of democracy when he amassed a vast business empire through somewhat -ah hem- dodge dealings. But he later fell out with the PM, equally corrupt Felipe Gonzalez over a business deal and in revenge Felipe nationalised his entire business empire, allegedly to safeguard the jobs after accounting irregularities were uncovered at his Rumasa empire.
The whole business quickly moved from the political to the gossip sections of the paper as allegations flew. Mateos became a maverick thorn in the side of the government. He appeared on the step of a court hearing dressed as Superman, declaring that only a true American hero of democracy could bring true Justice to him; in another famous episode, he discovered Felipe going on holiday in a luxury villa, rented the one next door to him and played loud flamenco music until the wee hours.
Anyway, Mateos fought back and launched a new business empire, called Nueva Rumasa, along with his thirteen children, owning hundreds of companies across Spain and employing some 16,000 people.That’s right, 16.000 people. Ruiz ran huge empires on a wing and a prayer, playing his luck until he hit a brick wall.
This too, went tits up in the recession when he ran out of cash and the whole thing is currently in the courts / tax evasion / give me my money back sort of thing. Mateos claims the whole collapse was politically engineered. He famously gace the best caveat ever on TV declaring that “If I don’t pay back every cent I owe my creditors I’ll shoot myself, if it weren’t for the fact that my religion forbids such an action”. Ruiz Mateos was a well known member of Opus Dei, the secretive Catholic group.
We shan’t see his like again, with any luck. A category of businessman who belongs to the last century, but who certainly livened up life.