October 21, 2020

Corruption shakes the Balearic ports again

“Systemic corruption”, as a judge defined the situation of abuse and fraud displayed for years at the head of the Balearic Port Authority (APB), has not strayed from the ports of the islands. On the contrary, it has once again put into question the management carried out by the leadership of the body in charge of controlling the benefits and services of the different port facilities of the archipelago.

The allegedly irregular mooring concessions and contracts of dubious legality come to the fore again in a sector in which moorings have always been a sweet cake in the Balearic Islands. In fact, the investigations opened this week against the president of the APB, Joan Gual de Torrella, and four other directors of the entity – arrested last Thursday night and released between Friday and Saturday with charges – point to a perpetuity in time of this type of practice.

Not surprisingly, in the port sector of Palma the anger towards the APB, in charge of managing the ports of Palma, Alcudia, Mahón, Ibiza and La Savina, in Formentera, is patent. In fact, businessmen from the sector point out to Eldiario.es that the scandals in the award of moorings “are permanent” in the archipelago.

One of them points out that the Port Authority “is the administration that receives the most public money in the Balearic Islands” and, in this context, it does not hesitate to categorically define the entity as a “nest of vipers. The board of directors is made up of people who puts the parties and between them they are covering everything “.

Probing among the pages of the 2019 APB Sustainability Report draws attention to a letter. It was written by the current director of the entity, Juan Carlos Plaza, who, with undisguised pride, underlined how that year the APB had adhered to the Ten Principles of the United Nations Global Compact in the fight against corruption and formally expressed its intention to support and implement such commitments “within their sphere of influence.”

This week, Plaza was arrested, along with Gual de Torrella, the vice president of the APB, Miguel Puigserver, and the directors José Fernando Berenguer and Armando Parada, for precisely violating those principles with the supposedly irregular award of moorings in the port of Mahón and different tenders in Palma and Ibiza whose investigation is carried out, under secrecy, by order of the Investigating Court number 3 of the Balearic capital.

The alleged crimes of embezzlement, prevarication and fraud weigh on those arrested in the context of investigations that so far have brought to light only a tiny part of the facts that are under judicial scrutiny.

In a society, the Balearic Islands, sanctified by the habit of seeing their public officials parade before judges and courts, this new macro-operation has its roots in the cause that ten years ago already devastated the APB as a result of the favorable treatment received by the Trapsayates company, owned by the former president of the Spanish Confederation of Business Organizations (CEOE) Gerardo Díaz Ferrán, in two competitions for the exploitation of moorings in Mahón and Ibiza.

For almost a decade, in addition to Díaz Ferrán and his former partner Gonzalo Pascual, more than a dozen former high-ranking officials of the Port Authority, including former presidents Francesc Triay (PSOE) and Joan Verger (PP), as well as numerous businessmen linked to the beneficiary company. Of all of them, only three ended up convicted.

Despite the high prison terms and the millionaire damages requested, the three defendants -Díaz Ferrán, the businessman Pedro Hernández and the ex-director of the APB Ángel Matías- were finally sentenced, under a conformity agreement between accusations and defenses , to the payment of 8,500 euros in fines.

Surprisingly, as this newspaper has already published, the Díaz Ferrán family has returned to their old ways on the islands, now through companies apparently led by the businessman’s daughter, Marta Díaz, by becoming with the control of the second dry dock in Menorca after a contest full of alleged irregularities.

In the midst of such ups and downs, controversy was also the management of the concession of the Club Marítimo del Molinar, in Palma, which resulted in a direct confrontation between the president of this entity, Rafel Vallespir, and Gual de Torrella. The imposition of fines of considerable amount by the Port Authority to the Club recently ended with the resignation of Vallespir through a letter in which he forcefully stated: “My main mistake has been to trust Joan Gual’s word”.

The arrests of APB executives, however, are not particularly striking if one takes into account the general environment in which Spanish ports have moved since the creation, in 1992, of the autonomous body Puertos del Estado, which brings together 46 ports of general interest managed, in turn, by 28 Port Authorities. With the creation of the public entity and the Port Authorities, according to the law that created it, a service provision was sought that is compatible with the principles of efficiency, agility and flexibility typical of business management that must be developed in ports. ”

An objective that, however, is far from being achieved in view of the countless cases of corruption that have hit port entities in much of Spanish territory in recent years. Tarragona, Gran Canaria, Algeciras or Gijón, among other enclaves, make up a constellation of investigations in whose epicenter are located an infinity of concessions and contracts that are the object of alleged acts and exchanges of favors.

It should be remembered that the controversy already accompanied Gual de Torrella in his appointment, in August 2015, as president of the Port Authority. The businessman took office at the proposal of the current Balearic Government, chaired by the socialist Francina Armengol, under harsh criticism from Podemos, who gives external support to the PSOE at the head of the regional government. The purple formation already made clear then their “mistrust” towards the future management of Gual de Torrella, which they predicted was marked by favor deals and client networks.


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