Spanish king’s brother-in-law might stay in women’s prison for “security” reasons

After being convicted of graft in the Nóos case, Iñaki Urdangarin has become the first male inmate at Brieva penitentiary in Ávila in many years

Iñaki Urdangarin arrives in Madrid on Sunday night.
Iñaki Urdangarin arrives in Madrid on Sunday night.GTRES

Iñaki Urdangarin, the brother-in-law of Spanish King Felipe VI, has become the first man in a long time to serve his sentence at the Brieva penitentiary in Ávila, after being given five years and 10 months for his involvement in the Nóos graft case.

Under Spanish law, convicts who are not being held in preventive prison can choose which jail they will serve their sentence in, although they may later be transferred by the Spanish prisons authority. Urdangarin has opted for Brieva.

Urdangarin would have no contact with other inmates

The former Olympic handball player will be held in the “men’s module,” an area with five cells, a television room and a 25-meter-long, seven-meter-wide courtyard that can only be used by the male inmates. The lack of other men there makes the prison suitable for inmates who need extra security measures.

This module has seen inmates like the former general director of the Civil Guard, Luis Roldán; drug gang leaders targeted by former judge Baltasar Garzón, and a collaborator from Basque terror group ETA. Now it will be the home of the king’s brother-in-law, whom prison sources did not hesitate to describe as “the most difficult inmate since Roldán.”

Typically, the men who are sent to this prison are then transferred to other centers. According to prison sources, no male inmate spends more than 72 hours in Brieva – the time needed to organize a transfer. Indeed, judges have refused to let prisoners whose regular residence is Ávila serve out their time at Brieva, on the basis it is only for women.

Prison sources say Urdangarin will be “the most difficult inmate since ex-Civil Guard chief Luis Roldán”

Prison sources say that the men’s area “needs to be overhauled.” The last time it was used for more than a few days was to house women from the prison’s sick bay while works were being completed on their own section. Two years ago, the center spent nearly €1.3 million to improve heating in the prison. With Urdangarin now an inmate, the facility has promised to conduct an express clean-up of the module.

Even though it is a women’s prison, authorities are considering making an exception for Urdangarin for “security reasons.” However, the head of the department, Ángel Luis Ortiz, said that the “decision is yet to be made.”

The fact that Urdangarin can be alone in the center is important. It means there is nearly no security risk to him and no chance that he will be recorded on a cellphone, as has happened recently with other celebrity inmates. He would not come in to contact with any other inmate or share any common spaces. The three daily meals would be brought directly to his cell, along with any other library books or canteen products he might need. A room with wooden and metal chairs would be his only recreational space. Without anyone to play with and with only a small courtyard at his disposal, Urdangarin has little chance to play any sport other than handball against a wall.

But this situation would also mean tougher psychological conditions for Princess Cristina de Borbón's husband. “Being alone day after day is very hard,” say prison officers consulted by EL PAÍS. Such staff would be the only people to have contact with the king’s brother-in-law on a day-to-day basis. Luis Roldán, the prison’s most famous inmate up until now, complained specifically about the solitude. In the 10 years that he was locked up, between 1995 and 2005, there was never another prisoner around, making it difficult for him to practice sports or enjoy cultural activities.

The prison in Ávila was built in 1989 and it has 162 cells (plus another 18 in the sick bay). As well as notorious inmates such as Roldán, its male module has been used to house prisoners classified as “difficult” in an effort to prevent them from having daily contact with other inmates. Today, the penitentiary is home to Dolores López Resina, a former member of ETA’s Barcelona cell who has been sentenced to more than 100 years in jail.

English version by Melissa Kitson.


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