Pedro Hernández Mateo in Valencia

Duly appearing just before 11:00, the former mayor of Torrevieja, Pedro Hernández Mateo, entered the administration of the High Court of Valencia in order to receive the instruction that he was to begin a three year prison sentence having been found guilty at every level of the judicial process of rigging a contract worth nearly 100 million euro. A few minutes later, he left the building once again, having apparently filed a claim for the suspension of his sentence whilst the judiciary consider a petition started by his nephew to keep him from going to prison.

The petition had been gaining support through social network sites, as well as in bars and other establishments in the city of Torrevieja, with claims of bullying and harassment suggesting that the campaign was being run with something of an iron fist. It was near the last minute that on Friday the Valencia Partido Popular issued a statement saying that they do not support the petition for clemency, but they would leave it to their individual members as to whether or not they sign.

In fact, some 75% of the deputies of Valencia did put their support by means of a signature to the case, spearheaded by Andrés Ballester, on “humanitarian” grounds, and claiming that he had collected 40 signatures of the 54 deputies. Prior to reaching the Valencia parliament, Ballester was an active politician in the Partido Popular of Orihuela, so much so, he was a potential candidate to replace former mayor, Mónica Lorente, to which he said at the time, “We need a change in Orihuela and especially in the PP”, with supporters also creating a number of Facebook pages in support of him, one of which was based around the alleged connections between the infamous Brugal corruption case and Lorente. Although he distanced himself from those claims at the time, despite saying he knew who was behind the campaign. As this case was hitting the headlines across Spain, the PP of Orihuela will once again be put under the spotlight as the courts have announced reopening the case against the mayoral predecessor of Mónica Lorente, José Manuel Medina.

Ballester also pointed out that he is not a murderer, nor has he even been found guilty of taking public money. It is true that the question of what motivates a criminal to commit their crimes may have baffled criminologists throughout history, in this particular case the guilty verdict is that he used his power to influence the award of the 100 million euro contract, with no suggestion in the ruling as to what, if anything, he gained from doing so. “I do not like anyone to go to jail for political reasons”, is what Ballester said on Friday, stating that “Everyone was has signed have done so by their own free will”. It may well be a personal choice to support clemency and freedom, whilst the party can still stand behind their new found anti-corrupt morals; after all, there are 8 of those 54 PP deputies who are themselves currently facing court cases.

Vice President and Spokesperson for the Valencian Government, José Ciscar, tried to downplay the issue, saying, “Members who have appealed for clemency have done so in a very personal way. It is legitimate and a neighbourhood initiative. I have not signed”.

Following the announcement from the courts, the President of the Valencia PP, Alberto Fabra, who was adamant that his party would shake the historic shackles of corruption and legal allegations, even being the person who has banned members who are even simply under suspicion by the courts from standing for election, as is the case with former mayor of Orihuela, Mónica Lorente, finally offered a statement, again distancing both himself and his party from the campaign for freedom, saying, “These issues are personal”, although he did go on to offer some criticism of the attitude of the “deputy” who initiated the petition because “it is an internal matter”.

As for the opposition, they have taken an all together different approach to the proceedings, not only asking for the law to be respected, but actively now campaigning to remove the option of further leniency. The socialist PSPV-PSOE has announced the introduction of a parliamentary initiative to ban the option of seeking a political pardon by anyone who committed crimes of corruption. In this proposal, the secretary general, Ximo Puig, notes that this attitude of the PP shows that the political group “protects corruption before, during and after”, and “far from apologising”, they instead, “now drive a campaign for a pardon”.

As the campaign for leniency was taking hold, two further petitions were also created. Firstly, regional Spanish newspaper created an on-line straw poll, offering three simple options, should he remain free, go to prison, or if the voter was not sure. Throughout that poll, the figure never dropped below 90% for people who believed he should serve his time in prison.

The Los Verdes in Valencia also launched a petition via the on-line website, that too was gaining support from members of the public, individuals only, all of who were lending their names, once again, to the fact that prison should be served.

As we are looking at the prison option, we do know that Hernández Mateo was sentenced to three years in prison, but there is no way he would serve such a period of time. The last known case locally saw a politician sentenced to 7 years in prison, only to be released after 4 months, so in reality, Hernández Mateo would be free, having served his time, in probably little over a month.

Support for Hernández Mateo has come from many different angles, as has the support for him serving the sentence handed down to him. From claims that he did a good job for the city whilst in office, countered by the obvious point that he got paid handsomely for doing so, and “that was his job”. There are also those who consider him an astute businessman. One commentator pointing out how his keen eye for business saw him buy an 18 acre plot of land for 180, 000 euro, on which he intended planting vegetable and breeding dogs, perhaps as his retirement plan, only to find that the land became reclassified ruining his idyllic scene of serenity, forcing him to sell the plot for 5.4 million euro, just 2 years after his investment.

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