THEIR KINGDOM COME -- INSIDE THE SECRET WORLD OF OPUS DEI
SINCE 1857, THE RUIZ-MATEOS FAMILY HAD BEEN INVOLVED IN THE sherry business. And the family enterprise had gradually expanded. In 1958, when Jose Maria Ruiz-Mateos was a young sherry broker in Jerez de la Frontera, he succeeded in becoming Harvey's of Bristol's exclusive supplier. Harvey's accounted for approximately 1°per cent of the world sherry trade. Under the contract it had with Ruiz-Mateos the Bristol firm undertook to purchase 20,000 casks of sherry a year at £200 per cask, implying a gross annual turnover of £4 million. The contract left Ruiz-Mateos with enough disposable income to invest in a Spain that was beginning to emerge from decades of economic stagnation. Harvey's, meanwhile, were so pleased with their agent that when the contract came up for renewal they extended it to ninety-nine years.
While Jose Maria's father had implanted in the future sherry magnate a deep business sense, his mother had instilled in him an equally religious one, including a deep veneration for the Virgin Mary, which remained one of the motivating forces of his life. His adoration for the Virgin was reinforced when in the mid-1950s he was introduced to Opus Dei. He regularly attended the Saturday benediction services at an Opus Dei centre on the way to the airport, until 1963 when he and his wife decided to write their separate letters to the Father asking to become members.
After the ministerial changes of 1957, Spain's economy had come to life. The tourist industry led the boom, with more than 6 million holidaymakers pouring $300 million annually into the economy, a figure that would rise to more than $3,000 million a year by the 1970s. With the Harvey's of Bristol 'mine' working well, Jose Maria found he had sufficient capital on hand to branch into other fields. He had attracted the attention of Luis Valls Taberner, the newly-appointed deputy chairman of Banco Popular Espanol. With Valls involved at a top management level, Banco Popular's commercial loan portfolio had increased by 300 per cent in one year and, looking for more business, he requested his assistant Rafael Termes to arrange a meeting with the sherry broker. On the appointed day, Ruiz-Mateos came to Banco Popular's Presidencia in Madrid, never dreaming that within two decades he would be acclaimed Spain's most successful entrepreneur.
Two more disparate characters were hard to imagine. Whereas Luis Valls was austere, reserved, not to say icy-cold, the younger Ruiz-Mateos was droll, agile and overflowing with the sun of Andalusia. He was accompanied by his brother-in-law, Luis Baron Mora-Figueroa, like himself an Opus Dei supernumerary. Ruiz-Mateos wanted to acquire the Banca de Jimenez in Cordoba, but although his sherry business was expanding, he lacked the necessary capital. With Banco Popular's assistance he bought the small private bank and later changed its name to Banco de Jerez. Thereafter Ruiz-Mateos joined with Banco Popular's Termes and another associate, Paco Curt Martinez, who although not a member was close to Opus Dei, in several tourist development ventures on the Costa del Sol. They formed a company together under the name of Ruiz-Mateos y Cia.
Luis Valls also introduced Ruiz-Mateos to Gregorio Lopez Bravo, a thirty-seven-year-old naval engineer who in July 1962 was named minister of industry and seven years later became Spain's foreign minister. Valls considered that both Ruiz-Mateos and Lopez Bravo possessed exceptional qualities. Of Ruiz-Mateos the banker said, 'You are someone capable of creating and maintaining thousands of jobs.' Of Lopez Bravo, whom he called 'Mr. Efficiency', he said, 'You will provide the motor for Spain's economic growth.'
That same year, to insure that he possessed sufficient stocks to fulfil the Harvey's contract, Ruiz-Mateos acquired a major sherry producer. But Harvey's had come under new ownership, and early in 1966 changed its commercial strategy and cancelled the contract with Ruiz-Mateos. By then Jose Marfa had been securely wired into the Opus Dei network and, under the watchful eye of Valls and Termes, he was busily extending his interests into vineyards, food processing, construction and tourism, with the result that he hardly noticed a drop in cash flow. Moreover, Harvey's shift in strategy transformed the Jerez firm from faithful ally into major competitor, as Ruiz-Mateos now directly entered the world sherry market under his own Dry Sack label.
After moving to Madrid, in February 1968 he renamed his holding company Ruiz-Mateos Sociedad Anonima, known in its abbreviated form as Rumasa. Over the next ten years, Rumasa became Spain's largest conglomerate in private hands. Jose Maria launched it on a whirlwind acquisition programme, building it into a multinational giant that controlled 350 industrial, shipping, pharmaceutical, tourism and agribusiness enterprises, and twenty banks. It counted 40,000 employees and was one of Spain's most prolific foreign exchange earners, exporting annually goods and services worth in excess of $260 million. 
Ruiz-Mateos was not only a devout Catholic but a compulsive workaholic. An image of the Virgin Mary adorned the entrance lobby of every Rumasa building and next to the boardroom he installed a Marian chapel. He chose the bee as his corporate emblem because it was the symbol of the industrious worker. His staff referred to him as the 'King Bee'. On his desktop, among a forest of family portraits -- his wife, Teresa, blessed him with seven daughters and six sons -- he kept a statuette of the Virgin, two crucifixes and a leather-bound copy of The Way. Living God's Work as a vocation meant keeping a portrait of the Father on his bedside table, confessing weekly to an Opus Dei priest, confiding in his spiritual director, attending the weekly circle to which he was assigned and pumping on average $1.65 million a year into the Work's coffers. 'I received money from God,' he said, 'and so I gave money to God.'
Whereas Vila Reyes of Matesa had used Opus Dei for its contacts, Ruiz-Mateos really believed that he was indispensable to God's Work. He allowed the Opus Dei strategists to use his corporate empire, though as far as he was concerned he remained in control. Nevertheless, eight of his fifteen managing directors were Opus Dei members. And because Opus Dei left him 'free' to operate his business as he thought best, he did not perceive the paradox when told by his spiritual mentors that he must remain discreet and deny he was a member of Escriva de Balaguer's Corps Mobile.
He described his spiritual director, Salvador Nacher March, as 'a saint, a wonderful man'. A lay numerary and lawyer from Valencia, 'Boro' Nacher became his alter ego. Ruiz-Mateos trusted him: no subject was too intimate not to be discussed among them. In fact, there was only one person he trusted more and that was Luis Valls Taberner.
With Ruiz-Mateos and Rumasa once again we collide with Opusian double-speak, for the organization claims it does not interfere with the professional lives of its members. 'When Opus Dei has given [members] the spiritual help they need, its job is finished. From then on, as far as the Prelature is concerned, members are on their own, as they make up their own mind in all professional, family, social, political and cultural matters -- matters which the Church leaves open to the free decision of the faithful. Opus Dei does not get involved, indeed cannot get involved. Even hostile former members agree that this is so, not just in theory, but also and always in practice,' Opus Dei apologist William O'Connor affirmed. 
While the entire statement sounds like a denial of reality, the last sentence is particularly striking. Which 'hostile former members'? Not one is named. With good reason. Not one would make such a statement unless a gun was held to his head. But within the context of the 'Spiritual Help/Job Finished' claim, Ruiz-Mateos was a good example of what can happen. Rumasa was all the more carefully controlled because he had created the almost perfect corporate structure for the particular needs of Opus Dei. First, Rumasa was privately owned by Ruiz-Mateos, his four brothers (one of them an Opus Dei priest) and sister. Because it was privately held, Rumasa could do things that publicly held companies, with shares listed for trading on a stock exchange, could not. Second, the Rumasa Group became extremely diversified with its own banks at home and abroad, and large foreign exchange operations. This meant it could be used, on the one hand, to camouflage international transfers, while being milked with the other for contributions. Third, for Opus Dei it was expendable. Thus Rumasa possessed in the green eyes of the Work the qualities of confidentiality, flexibility, availability and expendability, all important considerations for the men governing the finances of Opus Dei.
Optimistic by nature, Ruiz-Mateos became one of the Father's most faithful, obedient and profitable sons. He was fawned upon and spiritually cuddled. He grew to love the Work, and the Work loved him. When told that his help was needed in taking over an ailing Opus Dei auxiliary operation, such as a faltering bank, he did it 'freely' and in good faith. When counted upon to provide $10 million for the University of Navarra, he produced the money willingly and in good faith.
Opus Dei's financial requirements were vast. With five South American universities modelled upon the University of Navarra, a dozen other higher academic institutions in existence or planned around the world, and a $30 million sanctuary at Torreciudad under construction, it needed to draw upon a score of enterprises like Rumasa. A constant pressure existed to find not only new members, but new sources of capital. With such heavy demands the strategists were prepared to bleed a major contributor dry and pass on responsibility for paying off the creditors to the governments concerned. This was high-risk business, for if the failed enterprise was large enough it could place entire sectors of the economy in jeopardy. Even so, it was impossible to imagine that harm might come to a concern as flexible as the Golden Bee. In fact only one major hiccup in the economy was needed. It came in 1974. The economies of the industrial world almost gagged to death over a quadrupling of world oil prices, whose significance -- especially in Rome, where Opus Dei was engaged in a battle for greater influence within the Curia - was not realized for many months, and against all expectations the rumblings it brought on continued to cause problems for another decade.
Ruiz-Mateos was sufficiently strong-minded to assume an equilibrium in his relations with the Work that most other brothers in the faith were unable to achieve. On one occasion, when the Opus Dei directors asked him to hire an untested banker, Jose Ramon Alvarez Rendueles, to run Rumasa's banking division, Ruiz-Mateos refused. This was one Opus Dei suggestion that the King Bee would regret having rejected. Opus Dei was intent on insuring that Alvarez Rendueles's career remained upwardly mobile and, in fact, he later became governor of the Banco de Espana.
Ruiz-Mateos was well aware that obedience in all matters was the key to being a good son of the Work. He called it 'terrifying obedience'. One of his former advisers and close friend, not an Opus Dei member, remarked, 'Numerary and supernumerary members take vows of obedience. Opus Dei calls them "promises", but they amount to the same thing. Any hesitation to follow the slightest suggestion -- in fact an absolute imperative -- of one's superiors is interpreted as a refusal to obey God. It is a rejection of God. Jose Maria; who for twenty years fought with his conscience to justify the power that the Work holds over its members, said of the people of Opus Dei, "My God, if they adhere to this terrifying obedience they will do nothing without consulting their spiritual director."
'Under such a regime of submission, a member must obey without asking the reason. To question an order is a serious offence. If a spiritual director suggests that it would be a good thing for a member to leave his job and take another, the member must do so immediately. And if a member is asked to move to another country, or never to return to the country where he was born, he must carry out this order without asking for an explanation. To insist otherwise would provoke the anger of his superiors or even a threat of expulsion from Opus Dei.'
Ruiz-Mateos was said to have been devastated by the death of the Founder, to whom he believed he owed everything. By then Rumasa's annual turnover accounted for 2 per cent of Spain's GNP. It was an extremely profitable enterprise and, by juggling its accounts, could fund alone virtually any Opus Dei project, except perhaps the Portillo Option. He religiously paid over the required tithe of 10 per cent of Rumasa's profits, arranging to make quarterly transfers to Opus Dei accounts in Switzerland, though Spain continued to maintain exchange controls until joining the Common Market in 1986. The arrangements were handled directly between Carlos Quintas Alvarez, head of Rumasa's banking division, and Juan Francisco Montuenga, Opus Dei's treasurer for Spain. While Quintas was one of seven top Rumasa executives who were not Opus Dei members, his wife, Mercedes, was a supernumerary.
In addition to these regular payments, Opus Dei made other occasional demands that were destined to have a serious impact on Rumasa's ongoing development. The most significant was Rumasa's 1977 bail-out of Banco Atlantico. The operation proved costly, both to Rumasa and Opus Dei.
Atlantico's problems had begun three years before. The 1974 world liquidity crisis had not been kind to it and by 1977, although its deposits had risen to $730 million, it was experiencing treasury problems and its stock was dropping in the marketplace. Continental Illinois decided to dump its Atlantico shares. Rather than face the possibility of an embarrassing collapse, Opus Dei's' Spanish hierarchy asked Ruiz-Mateos -- behind the backs of Atlantico's managing directors -- to take over the bank and save it from going under. Ruiz-Mateos structured a buy-out by Rumasa that brought Atlantico an immediate infusion of almost $50 million.
With his usual optimism, he highlighted the positive side of the operation. 'It was important for Rumasa to have a strong banking network. Atlantico gave us elements we were lacking. We made Continental Illinois an offer to purchase their 18 per cent, and it was an attractive offer because the stock was on its way down. Rumasa bought the shares, then we went in and explained the situation to Bofill and Ferrer.' 
When informed that Rumasa had acquired Continental Illinois's block of stock, Jose Ferrer went white and remained speechless for a good ten minutes. Ruiz-Mateos understood that if a man of Ferrer's calibre remained dumbstruck for so long it meant that he was professionally finished. Opus Dei's 'terrifying obedience' demanded that he accept the fait accompli, no matter how unpalatable the consequences.
But in order to complete the majority takeover of Banco Atlantico, the Opus Dei directors required Ruiz-Mateos to buy Banco Latino as well, and at a very high price. Banco Latino had advanced significant loans to Fundacion General Mediterranea and other Opus Dei related concerns which had been filed as uncollectable receivables. 'In acquiring Banco Latino, we assumed these liabilities and wrote them off,' the King Bee explained. Thus Rumasa pumped another $13.5 million into Esfina, Fundacion General Mediterranea and Atlantico itself to acquire their equity in Latino. With the loan write-offs added, it proved an expensive lifeboat operation. But it permitted Atlantico's former charitable affiliate, the Fundacion General Mediterranea, with assets of $100 million, to continue operating for another sixteen years. Finally, by acquiring Atlantico Ruiz-Mateos inherited the services of the Zurich lawyer Arthur Wiederkehr.
Hoping to soften the blow for Bofill and Ferrer, during one of their meetings Ruiz-Mateos passed them a note. He had already told them that he hoped they would remain on Atlantico's board. The note said: 'With me, you will never have problems.' But the 'terrifying obedience' had other intentions for them. Pablo Bofill was sent to London to teach economics at an Opus Dei school. Jose Ferrer moved to Argentina where his family had important interests, and where also another Fundacion General Mediterranea existed that financed the neo-Peronista movement.
With such demands on Rumasa's treasury, it was hardly astounding that in 1978 the Banco de Espana warned Ruiz-Mateos to slow its expansion. Moreover, the Banco de Espana asked Rumas to supply the state comptrollers with audited financial statements and assigned a deputy governor, Mariano Rubio, to insure that it complied. Although Rumasa was entirely in the hands of the Ruiz-Mateos family, some of the companies it controlled were publicly listed, their stock being held by 100,000 minority investors. But Ruiz-Mateo was unwilling to produce audited accounts as they would show Rumasa's undeclared transfers to the Opus Dei network abroad. Fearing government retaliation, with Arthur Wiederkehr's help he started diffusing Rumasa's assets, an exercise that required several sets of books, but only one of them apparent. Nobody ever accused Ruiz-Mateos of being dumb. He remained as crafty as a fox, and he trusted Luis Valls Taberner.
1. Memorandum on The Rumasa Group by WW Finance S.A., Geneva, November 1979, p. 2.
2. Interview with Jose Maria Ruiz-Mateos, Madrid, 2 March 1995.