The administrative blunder that almost led to a diplomatic incident

Sources reveal the chain of events that led to release of pedophile Daniel Galván

Moroccan riot police violently quell protests in Rabat after Galván’s release.
Moroccan riot police violently quell protests in Rabat after Galván’s release.FADEL SENNA (AFP)

Daniel Galván Viña was surprised on July 30 when the governor of the Kenitra prison in Morocco told him he had been pardoned by King Mohammed VI and was free to go. This Monday, he was arrested at a hotel in Murcia after an international warrant was issued by Rabat. On Tuesday he was sent back to prison (in Spain) by the Spanish High Court.

Galván had good reason to be astonished: less than two years ago he was sentenced to 30 years for sexually assaulting 11 children between the ages of three and 15 while living in Kenitra, a town 40 miles outside Morocco’s capital. It was the most severe punishment meted out to a pedophile in the country’s history, reflecting the gravity of the crimes. The case generated such media interest that state television station 2M broadcast a lengthy, prime-time report.

Galván had petitioned to be transferred to Spain to serve out his sentence. “Spanish prisons are five-star hotels compared to Morocco,” say those with experience of the penal system in both countries. Spanish and Moroccan inmates have the right to be transferred between the two countries under a 1997 agreement. The paperwork usually takes about 18 months. But Galván’s request and those of a further 29 Spanish prisoners was somehow processed as a royal pardon, signed off by Mohammed VI on the occasion of the Feast of the Throne, which marks the anniversary of his coronation in 1999.

Somebody in the Royal Palace fused together the list of prisoners who had requested a transfer with one of 18 inmates who were to receive a pardon. The lists were compiled after King Juan Carlos had met with his counterpart in July and asked that the petitions be considered. What resulted has caused the biggest crisis of Mohammed’s reign.

It was the most severe punishment for a pedophile in Morocco’s history

The Moroccan monarch attempted to defuse public anger in a televised address and through several statements over the weekend, in which he said he was not aware of the “seriousness of the abject crimes” committed by Galván. The royal pardon was subsequently revoked, an unprecedented occurrence in Morocco.

Mohammed took a further step on Monday in sacking the director of the prison service, Hafid Benhachem, stating that he had sent “erroneous information” to the Royal Palace. Sources have now pieced together the chain of events that caused a legal and diplomatic minefield.

During Juan Carlos’s visit, the Spanish king asked Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane to speed up the transfer of Antonio García Vidriel, a retired truck driver in ill health. Two days later royal advisor Fouad Ali el Himma called the Spanish ambassador in Rabat, Alberto Navarro, to express his anger that Juan Carlos had not approached Mohammed directly. Navarro responded that the prison service was the responsibility of the prime minister’s office. “The king can also resolve these matters,” replied Himma.

This apparent invitation to petition the monarch directly was, in the eyes of Spanish diplomats, the perfect chance to accelerate an en masse transfer of Spanish inmates, most of whom were coming to the end of short sentences for drug offenses. In cooperation with the seven Spanish consulates in Morocco, Navarro drew up a list of 30 names eligible for transfers to Spanish prisons. One of those was Daniel Galván Viña. The embassy then forwarded two lists — the 30 transfer petitions and that of 18 inmates seeking a royal pardon — to the Royal Palace. There, the lists were somehow combined in one of 48 names up for a royal pardon. Galván was number 48. “Although done with the best intentions, we were pulling our hair out when we saw that the pedophile had been released,” a diplomatic source said.

Galván’s transfer request was somehow processed as a royal pardon

As soon as the mistake was realized, diplomats on both sides of the Strait scrambled to distance themselves from the error. In Spain, the Foreign Ministry denied any involvement in the drawing up of the lists, suggesting the embassy had acted without consulting the government. Moroccan authorities rallied to clear Mohammed VI of any blame by claiming the deal had been brokered by the Spanish CNI and Moroccan DGED intelligence agencies, and therefore the king had no choice but to sanction the deal for the higher national interest.

The Moroccan Justice Ministry issued on Friday a denial that it had been involved in the lists but backed the story of intrigue between the espionage agencies. The king acted “in the national interest,” the communiqué stated. The following day, the Royal Palace attributed authorship of the lists to Spain: “His Majesty King Juan Carlos, king of Spain, has asked his Majesty, King Mohammed VI, may God protect him, to pardon 48 Spanish prisoners.” Was Rabat trying to shift the blame on to the Spanish monarch? “The authorities bit their tongue and remained silent so as not to create an incident,” said a government official. A second communiqué was drawn up by Spain and Morocco in which it could be read between the lines that Galván could serve his time in Spain. Navarro told EL PAÍS on Sunday that “this path is open in the application of the 1997 bilateral penal treaty.”


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