MADRID: Inflated CVs, degrees that may or may not be real... a scandal over how Madrid's leader obtained a law diploma has swept up other politicians in what has become Spain's "mastergate".
For close to a month, Cristina Cifuentes, Madrid's conservative regional president, has been caught in a media storm over accusations she received the 2011-2012 masters degree from King Juan Carlos University (URJC) without taking all the required exams or attending lectures.
The opposition wants her to resign and prosecutors are investigating after the university rector himself admitted a document attesting she had passed was a "re-construction" of the original, with two professors' signatures faked.
Cifuentes announced Tuesday she had given up "using the degree" but ruled out resigning, saying she had not done anything illegal.
- From Harvard to Aravaca -
As it turns out, Cifuentes is far from the only one with a dubious degree.
The scandal has helped shine the spotlight on a host of other politicians who either faked part of their CVs or allegedly received special treatment to pass their degree.
Pablo Casado, like Cifuentes a member of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's Popular Party (PP) for which he acts as spokesman, admitted that in 2008 and 2009, he also passed a masters degree at King Juan Carlos University in special circumstances.
At the time a regional lawmaker in Madrid, the university automatically validated 18 subjects out of 22, arguing he already had a law degree. He never had to go to class either.
"I did exactly what I was asked to do," he said as justification. His tutor Enrique Alvarez Conde -- the same as Cifuentes -- has since been suspended by the university.
Casado was also found to have written on his CV that he had a post-graduate degree from Harvard University.
That turned out to be a four-day course linked to the Ivy League university in Aravaca, a Madrid district.
Such was the derision that Netflix Spain posted on Twitter a picture of its popular series Stranger Things, replacing the name of its fictional town Hawkins, where odd going-ons happen, with Aravaca.
Other revelations include the Socialist party's leader in Madrid, Jose Manuel Franco, who said for years that he had a degree in mathematics which he actually never finished.
Centre-right party Ciudadanos, a fervent rival of Rajoy's PP, has not been spared either.
Its lawmaker Toni Canto admitted that he wrote he was an "educator" on his CV, not because he had any official training but because he taught theatre classes "for many years".
As for far-left Podemos, its organisational secretary in the northwestern region of Galicia and regional lawmaker, Juan Jose Merlo, resigned on Friday after admitting he boosted his CV by pretending he was an engineer.
In the northern Basque country, Julen Arzuaga, a regional lawmaker for separatist coalition EH Bildu, went from holding a "masters specialised in human rights" in his official CV to being a more general "university human rights specialist in a global world."
- 'Titlitis' -
All, it would appear, have been been gripped by "titlitis", or an addiction to university diplomas in Spain.
"We have a fundamental problem, which is this idea of 'titlitis', or the idea that it's good for our politicians to have a university degree," politics expert Pablo Simon recently told the El Pais daily.
"In many cases we've seen that this has been achieved with huge lack of transparency."
This, he said, gave the impression politicians are "buying university degrees just like noble ranks were bought in the 19th century".
In a country with an unemployment rate of 16.5 percent where jobs are hard to come by even for those with degrees, the "mastergate" scandal has caused bitterness.
On Tuesday, news that Cifuentes had given up a degree she may never have passed was greeted with derision, with the hashtag #YoRenuncio (#IGiveUp in Spanish) a worldwide trend on Twitter.
"If Cristina Cifuentes can give up a masters which the URJC cannot ascertain she did, I give up on the Nobel Peace Prize," joked @_23Sergio.