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EDITORIAL

A first chapter for Jaume Matas

The six-year sentence for former premier sets a legal framework for the “Palma Arena case”

Jaume Matas, who was twice (1996-1999 and 2003-2007) regional premier of the Balearic Islands, and environment minister under José María Aznar (2000-2003), has just been sentenced to six years imprisonment in the first of the trials related to the “Palma Arena case,” held in the High Court of Palma de Mallorca. Matas was accused of having fraudulently paid almost half a million euros of public money to the journalist Antonio Alemany in return for writing his speeches, which Alemany later praised to the skies in the media, such as the daily El Mundo, to which he had access. Alemany has also been sentenced to three years, nine months and a day for breach of legal duty, public and mercantile document fraud, and misappropriation of public funds.

The trial that has led to Matas’ first conviction is not the most serious of the 26 pending in connection with Palma Arena, the name of a bicycle race track the budget for which rose from an initial estimate of 43 million euros to the final 110-million cost of its construction, thereby arousing suspicions of dishonest management and illicit enrichment on the part of the Balearic premier.

But the present ruling and, above all, the arguments employed, may foreshadow the legal criteria with which the court will approach the rest of the indictments, one of which affects the king’s son-in-law, Iñaki Urdangarin, who is accused of obtaining lucrative public contracts for vacuous sports promotion events in the 2003-2006 period, when Matas and Valencia’s Francisco Camps were premiers in their respective regions. It should be kept in mind that the crimes of which Matas has been convicted — fraud, public and mercantile document fraud, breach of legal duty, misappropriation of public funds and influence peddling — form the nucleus of the remaining indictments that await verdicts in the High Court of Palma de Mallorca. Thus the ruling may be a benchmark for the remaining cases.

Premier precedent

One notable aspect of the sentence is the court’s extensive and elaborate reasoning — 130 of the ruling’s 170 pages are devoted to the “juridical grounds” — marking the path to be followed in an affair of political corruption, where the tiniest legal fault might lead to a fiasco before higher courts.

The Balearic Islands region, one of those most abounding in cases of political corruption, already has another premier — Gabriel Cañellas — who has been obliged to resign for this reason. Now it can boast its first premier convicted for corrupt conduct in his post, and illicit enrichment. What Matas has done in the Balearics is not an example to be followed throughout Spain, in spite of what Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy once remarked of him.