* El Mundo editor "Pedro J" Ramirez exits with 15 mln euro
* Harsh critic of ruling party corruption and PM Rajoy
* Made his name revealing state-backed torture of alleged
By Elisabeth O'Leary and Claudia Cristoferi
MADRID/MILAN, Jan 30 The influential founding
editor of Spain's second-biggest newspaper, El Mundo, stepped
down on Thursday after a decline in circulation and a series of
revelations of alleged corruption in the ruling party.
Pedro Jose Ramirez, known as Pedro J (pronounced "Hota"),
has been sharply critical of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, even
though El Mundo, part of the Italian RCS group, is
considered broadly sympathetic to the ruling conservative
Ramirez, who often appears to court controversy, is known
for breaking some of Spain's biggest political scandals of the
last 25 years, including uncovering death squads backed by the
Socialist government in the 1990s and, more recently,
allegations of PP corruption.
An insatiable tweeter, he wrote rambling two-page Sunday
editorials peppered with historical and literary references
taking on everything from the Catalan independence movement to
Rajoy's cautious leadership style.
"Editorship of El Mundo will be assigned to Casimiro
Garcia-Abadillo, currently deputy editor, with the objective of
relaunching its hard copy circulation and further strengthening
its digital leadership," RCS said in a statement.
Ramirez left with severance pay of about 15 million euros
($20.5 million), a source close to the matter told Reuters.
Local media reported that the newspaper had been losing millions
of euros a year, but RCS declined to comment.
The circulation of the paper and its on-line version ORBYT
fell 14 percent in 2012, according to the last full-year report
available from RCS.
The same source said Ramirez's clash with the government was
behind the decision.
But Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said the government had
"absolutely not" been involved in the decision, and praised
Ramirez as "a great journalist who has left his mark on an era
Ramirez, the partner of fashion designer Agatha Ruiz de la
Prada, founded the newspaper in 1989. A colourful and outspoken
figure, he likes to wear the old-style newspaper editor's
He made his mark in the 1990s when El Mundo revealed that
government-backed death squads had tortured and killed suspected
members of the violent Basque separatist group ETA. The interior
minister of the time eventually went to jail for his
But after almost 200 people were killed in train bombings in
Madrid in 2004, Ramirez and El Mundo lost credibility by
repeatedly asserting that it was unclear who was behind the
attacks - giving fuel to ETA conspiracy theorists. Spain's High
Court found the bombs to be the work of Islamist extremists.
In 2013, El Mundo broke a story alleging illegal financing
by the People's Party. Other media followed with more details,
and a former PP treasurer who was close to Rajoy is now in jail
on charges of embezzlement, money laundering and other crimes.
He and the PP both deny wrongdoing.
El Mundo remains Spain's second most-read general-interest
newspaper, with a readership of about 1.1 million, behind
Prisa's El Pais on 1.8 million, according to the media survey
A Milan media analyst, who asked not to be identified, said
Ramirez's payoff would make a significant dent in the figures of
its owner Unidad Editorial, a unit of RCS, but that there could
be benefits for the firm's other media interests.
"Clashing with the government could be counterproductive on
regulatory issues relating to TV spectrum or advertising," he
($1 = 0.7329 euros)
(Edited by Fiona Ortiz and Kevin Liffey)