Spanish sleaze: Majorca faces corruption clean-up

Metro train in Majorca
Image caption Palma's Metro system is seen by many as an example of public money going to waste

When Majorca's deputy mayor Jesus Jurado entered office last summer on an anti-corruption ticket, he said it was shocking to realise just how much the popular tourist island had been "looted by a mafia masquerading as political organisations".

Mr Jurado, whose left-wing Podemos party now rules the island with the local MES socialist grouping, describes finding drawers full of unheeded reports on illegal buildings, a 50-year contract with a waste-disposal firm with a binding profit guarantee, and bloated infrastructure plans including roads and tunnels seemingly going nowhere.

"We see motorways and roundabouts with flyovers built where there is little traffic on an island that's just 50 miles long and which should be a paradise. The first thing we are doing is to downscale all the infrastructure projects on the books."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Princess Cristina and husband Inaki Urdangarin are on trial in a corruption case involving 18 defendants

But it is too late to prevent the tide of waste and corruption on an island that is currently hosting the first-ever criminal trial with members of Spain's royal family among the accused.

Princess Cristina faces two charges of tax fraud while her husband, Inaki Urdangarin, is accused of fraud and embezzling taxpayers' money.

Why is princess on trial in Majorca?

Catalogue of corruption

Back in the 1990s, the first in a long list of Majorcan political scandals saw Balearic Islands Premier Gabriel Canellas found guilty of accepting a €300,000 (£235,000; $335,000) kickback from the constructor tasked with building a tunnel through the island's northern mountains to the small town of Soller.

The conservative Popular Party (PP) politician avoided jail as the statute of limitations expired on his offence, but islanders continue to pay the cost for a tunnel built without any safety lanes and which costs €4.55 to use, despite measuring just 3km.

On a bigger scale, the Metro underground in Palma, Majorca's capital, cost €350m but is used by just 1.2 million passengers a year, or just 3,288 passengers a day, the equivalent of a busy bus route.

Over the past five years, 16 former Balearic PP politicians and eight members of Unio Mallorquina, a hinge party which joined the PP and Socialists in power in the archipelago, have been jailed for corruption and malpractice.

Podemos says it aims to bring transparency to public proceedings, starting by holding the first open island council meetings.

But optimism about real improvements in the island's economy are hard to come by as corruption cases mount and the economic crisis refuses to go away.

Majorca - small island with a chequered past

  • Registered population of 859,000, but the island is visited by more than 9.5 million tourists each year
  • Tourism for all the Balearic Islands - including Ibiza, Menorca and other smaller isles - made €12bn in 2014 (45% of GDP)
  • Tourism makes up 11% of Spain's GDP
  • In 2013, former Majorca council leader Maria Antonia Munar was jailed over two separate corruption cases
  • Juame Matas - ex-Balearic islands leader and Popular Party minister - served a jail term in 2014 for influence-peddling
  • Now accused in trial involving Princess Cristina and her husband
  • Also facing trial over illegal contracts related to Palma Arena, a massive steel-hulk sports stadium

The disgrace of Princess Cristina and her husband, for years the patrons of champagne-fuelled yachting events off the coast of Mallorca, seems to mark the end of an era on the island as the paint peels from the perimeter walls at the royal family's Marivent summer palace.

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Image caption King Felipe's family uses Marivent palace, but Princess Cristina and her husband no longer stay here

The former duke and duchess of Palma have not dared to use it as their base during their criminal trial.

Mariano Chellew, 23, is one of Majorca's horde of jobless youths, with unemployment among under-25s running at 45% in the Balearics as a whole.

He said he had spent 18 months sleeping in the streets and is furious at what he terms the abusive labour conditions on offer for young people.

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Image caption Yacht builders say the corruption scandals have resulted in Majorca's rich preferring to hide their wealth

"No-one I know has ever had a contract for longer than three months and mostly you are paid in cash without social security insurance when you do find work. People are sick of this situation," says Mariano.

But at the city's top yacht-building company, Astilleros Palma, they say they cannot find locally trained people to take up jobs, and have to bring people in from elsewhere.

And the crisis and shame surrounding Majorca's corruption has had an impact on business. Anyone with money now prefers not to show it off and focuses instead on basic maintenance, the company says.

For Kathy da Costa, a 42-year-old media professional who moved here from Venezuela, finding work has been difficult.

"Majorca is a rich person's paradise but people should look more closely at the other side. Corruption is making people want to go elsewhere."

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