BULLFIGHT BACKING

Public money to sponsor a bullfighter

Prosecutors are looking into local council's deal with Adrien Brody's 'Manolete' double

Espartinas's local bullfighter, Agustín Pérez
Espartinas's local bullfighter, Agustín PérezPACO PUENTES (EL PAIS)

It sounds like something out of a Luis Berlanga movie, but it is a real and contemporary tale: in June 2007 the local council of the Seville municipality of Espartinas signed a contract to represent Agustín Pérez García, a promising bullfighter with the nom de guerreof Agustín de Espartinas. What began as a bid to promote a talented local youngster has ended up in the hands of prosecutors. A complaint filed by the Socialists over possible embezzlement of over 120,000 euros in public funds suposedly awarded to Agustín has been passed to the courts.

Agustín, 27, was Adrien Brody's double in the ill-fated Menno Meyjes film Manolete, which charts the famous bullfighter's controversial affair with Lupe Sino and his death in the ring in 1947. It seems that life imitates art for Agustín, who never quite made it as a matador after he was trained in Espartinas by another great bullfighting figure, Juan Antonio Ruiz, " Espartaco," also a local resident. Since his debut in 2008 he has fought just a dozen times, most recently in Navarre earlier this month. He will be on show in the same region on the 15th. During the winter he picks olives, and does the odd shift in local bars and warehouses.

The Popular Party has enjoyed an absolute majority in Espartinas since 1983 and the mayor's office belonged to María Regla Jiménez until her death in 2003. She was replaced by her son, Domingo Salado, who still holds the staff of office. Salado's right-hand man and deputy mayor is Javier Jiménez, who is also responsible for the municipal coffers, urban planning, local development and security. Jiménez is also vice president and chief executive of Esdelsa, the private promotional company for the town, which signed the contract with Agustín.

Only Jiménez's slip, the fruit of his arrogance," saw the contract come to light

Jiménez's sons, Borja and Javier, are both bullfighters, the latter having been awarded an ear in Madrid's Las Ventas bullring last Sunday. Javier's Madrid triumph has been the leading story on the local council website since then. Jiménez Sr was the driving force behind the construction of Espartinas' bullring, which opened in 2005 after a 3.5-million-euro investment from the council, as well as the local bullfighting school, which was run by Espartaco's father but closed last year after suffering losses. Agustín stood out at the school and eventually received an offer of personal sponsorship from Jiménez.

The contract was drawn up pre-crisis and revoked in January 2008 when Agustín decided to seek a new backer. The matter lay dormant until January of this year when a bullfight in Espartinas was billed without Agustín. His current representative, Tomás Campuzano, complained to the council, which responded with a press release attacking the matador's stance as it had invested a six-figure sum in his career.

Although Jiménez doubled back immediately, the contract was now in the public domain. Jiménez stated that such an investment had never been made and that the council had merely wiped a debt of 150,000 euros that it said Agustín owed for breaking his contract with Esdelsa. However, the deputy mayor says now that Agustín was paid around 120,000 euros in royalties, which were approved by Esdelsa and the local council and duly submitted to the Audit Chamber. But the Socialists see it differently, while other opposition groups say they had no knowledge of the contract and that it was never discussed at assembly meetings. "Only Jiménez's slip, the fruit of his arrogance," allowed it to come to light, they say.

How can Espartinas say it sponsored Agustín when he only fought there once?"

When approached by this newspaper, Agustín replied: "If it is to talk about Agustín de Espartinas, of course we can talk; on the issue with the council, no, because that will be cleared up where it should be."

Meanwhile, Agustín's lawyer, Javier de Cossío, says the suit will not prosper because the statute of limitations for a crime of this type is five years, although a ban from public office is a possibility. He adds that his client did not receive a single euro in sponsorship and that he has had to ask friends and family for help to pay debts with the Social Security, tax office and salaries to his bullfighting team that were not covered by Esdelsa when supposedly sponsoring him.

"How can [the local council] say it sponsored Agustín when he has only fought in one corrida in Espartinas," he asks. "All of this has been a nonsense that has been very damaging to Agustín, who has lost money and not earned anything."

The residents of Espartinas are caught between solidarity with one of their own and bringing the matter to light. A poll on the Socialists' website asks: "What do you think of the sponsorship of a matador with public money?" Of those who have responded, 300 believe it is a "genuine disgrace," while 87 said: "It's a good thing, they should do more of it." Now it only remains for a judge to opine on the matter.

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