The latest testimony at the Nóos corruption trial in Palma has reinforced prosecutors’ suspicions that Iñaki Urdangarin, the brother-in-law of King Felipe VI of Spain, received €2.6 million in contracts from the Balearic government between 2003 and 2007 because of who he was.
With the first defendants having taken the stand, several former high-placed officials in the Balearics have confirmed that the regional government arbitrarily awarded contracts to the Nóos Institute just because Urdangarin was behind it.
José Luis Ballester, the former director of sports for the Balearics who was also a personal friend of King Felipe when the latter was still the crown prince as well as a friend of Urdangarin, said there were direct orders from ex-president Jaume Matas to favour Urdangarin’s foundation over any other interested parties.
Matas, it has been said, has struck a deal with the prosecution to confess to most charges in return for a reduced sentence and the return of money. Accordingly, during questioning yesterday he appeared much more co-operative than in previous hearings involving parallel criminal investigations into his management of regional finances during his second term in office (2003-2007). Prosecutors believe that Matas helped award Nóos a €300,000 fee for mediating during negotiations over the sponsorship of the Banesto cycling team, once considered the best in the world.
Matas told the court that the princess’s husband was "the go-between, the intermediary, the facilitator" of the agreement with the Banesto team, which in 2004 fell under the sponsorship of the Balearic government. Matas also said that Ballester told him that "Urdangarin wanted to charge a one per cent fee" and that this was normal.
"I accept my responsibility because I gave the order to take on that project, and I assume my guilt because Balearic taxpayers’ money was not spent on what it should have been spent on," said Matas.
He admitted that he had hired Ballester as director of sports because of his personal connections with the Royal Family and added that he agreed to pay €1.2 million to the Nóos Institute to organise the Balearic Islands' sports forum because the government of Valencia had done something similar a year earlier and had paid a similar amount. Urdangarin is also being investigated for his business dealings in the Valencia region.
"To me it was unthinkable that Valencia might have paid that amount for something that was not worth it," said Matas, adding that Urdangarin ran a non-profit organisation that could only legally charge enough to cover expenditures.
The testimony is bad news for Urdangarin, a former Olympic handball medallist, who potentially faces nineteen years' imprisonment if found guilty of embezzlement, document forgery and money laundering.
Away from the court, Juan Pedro Yllanes, the judge who had originally been due to have been the court's president during the trial before he opted to stand for national parliament on behalf of Podemos (he is now a member of parliament), said yesterday that Matas was only saying things for form's sake. He was also "subtly" trying to distance himself from the contracts at the heart of the investigation and now trial.
Yllanes noted that Matas had limited himself to accepting responsibility for the political move to give Nóos a contract but that he said that he knew nothing about the actual contracts and had not spoken to Nóos representatives (Urdangarin or Diego Torres).
Regarding Matas's intention to repair the damage that had been caused, Yllanes wondered how he was going to do this. An offer to hand over half of his "palacete" in Palma would not seem to be a very effective form of restitution.
Yllanes added that the whole Nóos affair was indicative of how the awarding of public contracts worked in Spain. It was, he said, highly symbolic that the start of the process was with a game of paddle tennis at the Marivent Palace, which is not a "private chalet" for any family but "a residence that all we Spaniards pay for so that the head of state can have his holidays". "It doesn't seem like it is the most suitable place for private negotiations."
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