Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Son Rossinyol Nights Out: The trial

The entrance to the Son Rossinyol industrial estate is just off the Soller road, heading out of Palma. It is a development of a type that only Mallorca could somehow dream up. Amidst its light industry, services of various kinds, retail outlets, showrooms and offices, there is an old rural finca. The first building on this land was in the seventeenth century, and the finca is now classified as being part of the Balearics' historical heritage. Its name is Sa Possessió. It was converted into a cultural centre and is perhaps best known for the club that operates there. This Friday will be a night of black music.

Close to Sa Possessió is the School for Balearic Public Administration. Some of those who will be inside this building this week might like to relax on Friday at Sa Possessió. If they do, they will be members of the media, those from afar and nearer. Others at the building will be nowhere near Sa Possessió. They'll be keeping as far out of sight as possible.

This isn't the first time that this school has housed a trial. The "caso Kabul" was a major drugs trial involving one of Palma's principal clans. It started almost three years to the day, its cast having comprised 55 accused, the star of which (if star is the correct word) was Francisca Cortés Picazo, commonly known as "La Paca", the matriarch of the clan based in Son Banya, notorious for being at the centre of the capital's drugs trade. Other family members were similarly well known by their nicknames: "El Ico", "La Guapi", "El Moreno". 

"Caso Kabul" was a major media event but it is not in the same league as "caso Nóos". There is no matriarch. Instead there is a princess. Nicknames do not abound. Only the names of insults directed at certain accused. There is no clan. But there is a dynasty: the Bourbon.

To find the origins of the Nóos trial, you have to go back to an investigation that was opened by Judge José Castro in July 2010 into agreements from four and five years previously between two bodies within the Balearic tourism ministry - the sports foundation (Fundación Illesport) and the one-time tourism promotion agency (Ibatur) - and the Nóos Institute, a partner in which had been the Duke of Palma, Iñaki Urdangarin, the husband of Princess Cristina. These agreements were to later be exposed in the media. Reproduced invoices showed the amounts that had been claimed for work which, the investigation was to find, appeared not to have been undertaken. Or for which, at the very least, payment had been greatly in excess of what it had merited. One particularly revealing aspect of these invoices was one for 450,000 euros that was raised a month before the 2007 election. This was an election that the former president of the Balearics, Jaume Matas, lost. He is also on trial.

The fact was, however, that there were earlier origins to the case, and they stemmed from the investigations into Matas, in particular those to do with Palma Arena. There had been a domino effect that had started with the arrest of the mayor of Andratx in 2006. The dominoes were knocked over and they revealed Matas and eventually Nóos.

The amounts involved in Nóos are comparatively small beer when set against those related to Palma Arena and to the contract for Son Espases Hospital (about which we have certainly not heard the last). But 6.2 million euros, the amount of public funds alleged to have been embezzled, are still 6.2 million euros. The amount is immaterial of course. It's the principle that matters.

Though the trial is set to last until the end of June, it opened with a certain sense of finality. One of those accused, the former director of Balearic sport and one-time Olympic rower, José Luis Ballester, has already expressed his repentance. Even Matas appears to accept his fate, one that he is wishing to partially avoid by using his "palacete" in Palma as recompense for what he has described as the damage that was done. The irony of this is not lost on many. It was a raid on this "palacete" that marked the point when the dominoes had fallen and revealed him. And my, how the media revelled in its descriptions of the luxury inside and of his wife's wardrobe.

Diego Torres, the one-time business partner of Iñaki Urdangarin, has not thrown in the towel. For months, he has been doing his best to implicate the Royal Household and its intimate knowledge of the affairs of Nóos. If he's going down, he's taking others with him. In an extraordinary prelude to the trial, he was interviewed on national television last week, detailing his charges of Royal Household involvement. 

And then there is Princess Cristina. The trial is far more than just about her. Indeed it might yet be that she doesn't stand trial, if the defence of the Botin doctrine is accepted. As she faces a private and not public prosecution, everything hinges on the interpretation of this defence. For the media who have come from afar, they will be probably hoping that the defence fails. If it succeeds, there will be no nights at Sa Possessió. The big trial will suddenly seem smaller. 

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