Credit: ICMAT

Spanish court clears leading mathematician of mismanagement charges, orders him restored to job

After a nearly 2-year legal battle, a Spanish court has cleared a leading Spanish mathematician of allegations that he mismanaged funds, and has ordered him returned to his position as head of a prestigious national mathematics institute.

In 2015, mathematician Manuel de León was removed as director of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences (ICMAT) in Madrid, a research center that is jointly run by the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and three Madrid universities, amid allegations that the center had sidestepped spending rules. De León, who helped found ICMAT and had led the center since 2008, said the allegations were fueled by internal bureaucratic disputes and jealous colleagues. He challenged his dismissal in court.

A ruling issued by the Upper Court of Justice of Madrid on 27 April backs De Léon and tells a dark tale of intrigue. It presents evidence that “there had been a campaign of discredit” against De León, prompted by his complaints against another administrator, and that the decision to dismiss him was motivated in part by professional envy. The court ordered ICMAT’s overseers to restore De León to his post; he had been elected to a new term as director in July 2015, just before his dismissal. 

CSIC has until the end of May to decide whether to appeal the decision.

In the meantime, current ICMAT Director Antonio Córdoba says that “we are pleased that … no irregularities or serious mistakes were found in the management of funds.”

De León says he is satisfied with the ruling. It confirms that “a plot was organized by people who were interested in me not continuing as the director,” says De León, who has continued to work at ICMAT as a CSIC professor since his dismissal.

It’s not clear how long De León would be able to serve as head of ICMAT even if he is ultimately returned to the position. CSIC officials have suggested he would have only days left in his term if restored. De León believes he would be entitled to serve a 4-year term.

De León says his plan when he was elected in 2015 was “to consolidate the institute” and then quietly retire. Now, he says, he wants to see that plan through.