Monday, February 19, 2018

When Luis Riu Became News

It would be wrong to conclude that the owners of Mallorca's Big Four hotel chains actively court publicity. They get it as they can't avoid it: when you're fishes the size of the Big Four in the small business pond of Mallorca, this is inevitable.

The Escarrers, father and son, are the most prominent: Meliá is the biggest of the Big Four. Miquel Fluxá of Iberostar is not far behind: with that mane of silver hair he is the most recognisable. Simon Pedro Barceló's banker appearance is the total opposite of Fluxá's flamboyance. He has rarely enjoyed the sort of coverage he has received recently, because of the now aborted merger with NH Hotels.

The Rius, brother and sister, are the least known, and Luis was less known than Carmen. This was how he had liked it. A somewhat reluctant head of a massive hotel empire, he had to step in (as did Carmen) when his father died in 1998. He had really wanted to be an architect. Everyone knows about Luis now. If he had ever believed that he would attain something approximating to global recognition, he would never have contemplated this being because of images of himself in handcuffs. Prosecutors in Miami-Dade County have given Luis the publicity he has always shunned.

On the face of it, things don't look great for Luis or for Riu Hotels & Resorts. Investigators had amassed 119 pages of documentation. Allegations of free stays in hotels or hefty discounts; Mariano Fernández, the former head of urban planning, was a beneficiary, and Mariano apparently had luxurious suites replete with jacuzzis and a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label as a birthday present. The "gifts" seemingly spiralled out of control: one employee of the Miami public works department asked for free nights for her father.

None of this has of course been proven in a court of law. But damage has already been done. The company is threatening to sue individuals who have been making what it considers to be defamatory comments. It naturally and justifiably reserves the right to take action. Damage limitation is needed, and there are those in the Balearics only too ready to increase the damage.

Be it just a whiff or more potent, scandal surrounding any of the Big Four (especially the Big Four) provides an open goal for hotelier critics to net their recriminations. The Panama Papers offered this where Meliá was concerned. With Luis Riu, the goal is more tempting. The prosecutors got their man, even if he did give himself up voluntarily. For observers in Mallorca there is a greater reality with the Riu case than with the Panama Papers. Smoothing things with town hall and local authority officials - allegations or proven facts - has been a way of life on the island. (One says "has been" with a degree of optimism.) Everyone in Mallorca can understand what has happened in Florida, as it could just as easily have been in Mallorca.  

For some current elements in higher political echelons in the Balearics, Luis Riu has been like manna from Heaven. It's not difficult to figure out who these include. The Balearic Islands do not deserve to be "shamed" in the way that they have been, has said Alberto Jarabo of Podemos. The image of the islands has been "tainted". Alberto can be thankful for not having tainted the image. Subletting a holiday rental in Son Serra de Marina and forgetting to declare the income is not something that anyone away from the islands gives two hoots about.

David Abril of Més has observed that certain "lobby" groups attempt to influence laws. Who can he possibly have been referring to? In foreign lands, power and influence are used in order to go above the law. Abril, as with Jarabo, could have been expected to have been less than impressed by developments in Miami.

What of the media, though? The broadcaster IB3 is being accused of having already condemned Luis Riu. A witch hunt has been launched. The coverage given to the affair is vast by comparison with other major stories, one of which was the Biel Barceló trip to the Dominican Republic. When a tourism minister from Més runs into controversy because of the supposedly irregular acceptance of a gift, this doesn't merit the same scrutiny as a hotelier allegedly plying individuals with gifts.

With IB3 there is a bigger game going on. The Partido Popular is demanding the resignation of its director, Andreu Manresa. The broadcaster is being politicised (nothing new with this; the same has been said in the past of other directors), its ratings are plummeting, and there are issues to do with the contracting of reporters and with a "poor working environment". Accusations of some bias in the Riu affair have to be considered in the wider context of criticisms coming from the political right.

Meanwhile, Luis Riu has never been such big news.

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