An image of former Spanish Agriculture Minister Isabel Garcia Tejerina, pictured in 2017, is being shared in posts claiming she made recent comments about how to find a cure for the coronavirus. (Thierry Charlier / AFP)

Spanish politician misidentified in posts saying soccer players should find novel coronavirus cure

Posts on social media claim that a “Spanish biological researcher” called on international soccer stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to find a cure for COVID-19 since they earn much more money than scientists. However, the accompanying photo shows a Spanish politician speaking in April 2018, well before the novel coronavirus outbreak.

“A Spanish biological researcher: 'You give the footballer €1 million euros a month & a biological researcher €1,800 per month, and you are now looking for a Coronavirus treatment. Go to Cristiano Ronaldo or Messi & they will get you a cure,’” a Facebook post reads, purportedly showing the researcher.

One million euros is about $1.1 million and 1,800 euros is about $2,000.

Posts making the claim have been shared thousands of times on social media since at least March 17, 2020, including on Facebook here, here and here, on Instagram here and on Twitter here.

A screenshot of the false Facebook post, taken March 31, 2020

By conducting a Google reverse image search, AFP found a press release with the same photograph, published on a Moroccan government website in April 2018, well before the emergence of the novel coronavirus in December 2019 in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

The woman in the photograph is identified as Isabel Garcia Tejerina, Spain’s then-minister of agriculture and fisheries, food and environment, who had visited the country for a meeting with her Moroccan counterpart.

One of the microphones in the photo is from the MAP, Agence Marocaine de Presse (Moroccan Press Agency) and the other is from broadcaster Al Maghribiya’s Channel 1, based on the logos of the news agencies.

Agence Marocaine de Presse logo
Al Maghribiya Channel 1 logo

On MAP’s YouTube channel, a video of the interview that corresponds with the image is available, published April 24, 2018. It identifies the interviewee as Garcia Tejerina.

Screenshot of YouTube video with Garcia Tejerina’s April 2018 interview, taken March 27, 2020

In the interview, the minister speaks in French about the collaboration between Spain and Morocco in the agriculture sector and points out that the results presented by her counterpart “are the reflection of the success of this plan for modernization of the sector: an increase in production, an increase in exports, an increase in agriculture’s contribution to the wealth of Morocco.” 

She does not say anything about Argentine soccer player Lionel Messi, who plays for the Spanish club Barcelona, or Portuguese player Cristiano Ronaldo, who plays for the Italian club Juventus.

Garcia Tejerina, an agricultural engineer and lawyer, left her position as minister in June 2018 after the government change in Spain, a few months after her visit to Morocco. Since 2019, she has been the Spanish parliament deputy for Madrid and a deputy secretary for the Popular Party (PP).

AFP Fact Check reached out to Garcia Tejerina via Twitter for comment but has not received an official response as of the publication date.

This article was translated from Spanish by Claire Savage in Washington.