Ex-Balearics leader enters prison

Jaume Matas becomes second ex-minister in Spanish democratic history to do jail time

Jaume Matas reports to Segovia penitentiary.
Jaume Matas reports to Segovia penitentiary.FOTO CEDIDA POR la sexta

Jaume Matas, a former Popular Party (PP) minister and twice regional premier of the Balearic Islands, reported to Segovia penitentiary on Monday to serve a nine-month sentence for influence peddling.

This is the second time in Spain’s democratic history that a minister has had to serve jail time. In 1998, Socialist minister José Barrionuevo spent three months in prison in connection with the kidnapping of French citizen Segundo Marey by GAL, a state-sponsored militia used in the dirty war against the Basque terrorist group ETA in the 1980s.

Matas, who was environment minister under the José María Aznar administration between 2000 and 2003, had asked for a government amnesty to avoid prison, but his request was turned down 18 days ago. Matas is a personal friend of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, with whom he used to go sailing. But Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón stated in March that the government would not pardon politicians convicted of corruption.

Matas had tried to avoid jail by alleging that his case did not constitute corruption

Matas had tried to avoid jail by alleging that his case did not constitute corruption, as he did not appropriate public money. He also proposed trading in the nine-month conviction for a €10,000 fine or community work. But his appeals were to no avail.

Segovia penitentiary, which holds around 350 inmates, will be Matas’ home for the next nine months after he was found guilty of influence peddling in connection with illegal contracts made out to his speech writer, Antonio Alemany. Alemany used to be a reporter at El Mundo newspaper, where he published glowing stories about Matas at the same time as he wrote speeches for the regional premier.

This conviction is just one offshoot from the Palma Arena case, a major investigation into the construction of a sports arena in Palma de Mallorca while Matas was in office between 2003 and 2007.

There are over 20 separate, related investigations in the case, and Matas is still under scrutiny for a number of other crimes. Another offshoot has become famous in its own right, as it involves Iñaki Urdangarin, brother-in-law to former king Juan Carlos I, and his wife Cristina de Borbón, who was forced to testify in court earlier this year. The prosecution is asking for a five-year prison term for Matas in connection with this case.

The former PP leader is also suspected of involvement in illegal party financing and the unfair awarding of government contracts.