Rumasa (Ruiz Mateos SA) was founded in 1961 by the family of José María Ruiz Mateos. It originally exported wine to England. In 1983 it had become very large (allegedly because it was linked to Opus Dei) and so debt-ridden that it was nationalized by the socialist PSOE government of Felipe González “in the public interest”.
At the time it consisted of more than 700 companies, with a staff that reached 60,000 people, with an annual turnover of about 350,000 million pesetas (more than 2,000 million euros). Eventually parts of the empire were re-privatized.
The group, was originally rooted primarily in the wine sector, and diversified into banking. Its gradual but massive growth occurred through the acquisition of companies with financial problems so that it became a group of companies that (supposedly) supported each other. RUMASA was present in the following sectors:
- Wine production: Bodegas (Wineries) including Paternina, Garvey Group, Bodegas Franco-Españolas, René Barbier, Segura Viudas, Conde de Caral
- Banking: including the banks Atlantic, Jerez, Masaveu, Exbank, AVA, Eurobank, Banfisa
- Hospitality: The hotel chain “Hotasa”
- Retail: 22 Department Stores “Galerías Preciados” (since integrated into El Corte Inglés) and Spanish luxury goods “Loewe”. (now part of the Louis Vuitton, Moët Hennessy LVMH group)
Following the nationalization of his empire Ruiz-Mateos fled to London and started a series of legal cases to recover some of his seized assets. In 1985 he was arrested at Frankfurt airport and extradited to Spain.
The Francoist-leaning Alianza Popular political party (now integrated into the Popular Party) failed to persuade the constitutional court to reverse the sequestration. The High court eventually received a total of 165 claims from Ruiz-Mateos, and eventually resolved a “fair price” settlement (although the family got nothing)
Twelve years later in 1997 (shortly after the People’s Party government of José María Aznar took power) the High court absolved Ruiz-Mateos from the criminal charges, and in 1999 also the civil actions, so that his bail bonds were returned.
The family started a new company (Nueva Rumasa) with a “Busy Bee” logo that eventually comprised major brands, including: The Dhul Food Group, which include brands Cacaolat, Carcesa (which owns Apis conserved tomato products as well as Fruco tomatoes and tomato juice), Clesa dairy products, Royne ice cream, Chocolates Trapa. Wine and beverages include Los Conejos & Gabín Garres liquers, rum, rum-punch, sherry, brandy, and other related products.
The company claimed a total of 10,000 employees (the Trade union estimate was 6000) and net worth of almost six billions. It started a huge advertising campaign to attract private investors, and was reprimanded several times by the regulatory authorities, who also issued warnings to existing and potential investors.
In 2011 the firm collapsed with a debt of 700 million Euros spread across some 23 banking institutions, private creditors and government agencies. Most of the debt arose from Dhul an Clesa, which together lost 434 million euros.
In 2012 the founding father José María Ruiz-Mateos was arrested and has again spent time in prison on remand. He is essentially accused of operating a vast pyramid scheme (paying dividends to shareholders from fresh investments). Two of his sons who ran hotels in Andalucia are formal suspects in the ERE trial process.