NOBODY was in doubt of the popularity of Mayor Carlos Fabra. After 16 years in power, he united 70 per cent of the vote in the once sleepy hamlet of Vall d’Alba in Castellón.
After all, insist his adulators, their town now has a promenade (even though it is not by the sea), a bull ring and a secondary school – thanks to Fabra and his PP cronies. Not bad for a place with just 3,000 residents.
But what of Francisco Martínez, Fabra’s deputy? Is he really that popular? Within the space of a few years, Martínez has been privately “donated” no less than 13 properties or plots of land. This acquired land covers 380,000 square metres – the equivalent of 47 football pitches.
This insists the deputy mayor, came almost entirely through altruistic donations: that must be some promenade, Señor Martínez.
The Partido Popular (PP) was dealt a heavy blow in Vall d’Alba as allegations placed Fabra and Martínez under scrutiny for allegedly defrauding the Treasury and influence peddling.
The pre-election timing of the accusations suggests they were revealed tactically by the PSOE party in an attempt to diminish the PP’s heady majority.
Scandalous as the charges may be, they hardly performed a coup de grâce- the PP were only down 3 per cent on the previous election, winning a majority of 68 per cent of the votes during local elections in Spain on May 27.
Fabra, whose opponents claim has quadrupled his personal fortune in the past five years, looks set to remain a political giant in the town. What is clear is after surviving four terms in the ayuntamiento (town hall), the influence of the Fabra-Martínez duo on the locals is considerable.
Journalists’ attempts to get residents to comment on the allegations proved fruitless: “It’s best to stay silent”, explains a local in Vall d’Alba, while another insists that matters concerning the mayor remain a “taboo” subject.
The socialists claim that the mayor’s power has been despotic at times –wielding influence that leaves people too frightened to criticise: “If you go up against the mayor, you end up on a black list,” claims Francisco Grande, Fabra’s PSOE counterpart.
It is suspected many of the real estate “presents” were, in fact, purchased in cash and declared as gifts to avoid paying out to the Treasury.
Martínez insists the properties all came from family members, but some of the links appear tenuous to say the least.
One woman donor is connected genealogically with Martínez’s great grandmother- the Spanish press has questioned whether this distant link should inspire such generosity.
Fabra, meanwhile, is accused of good old fashioned interest peddling – he is alleged to have given public contracts to his own companies, earning himself over 840,000 euros in four years.
It is also alleged only half of his income in that period was declared to the treasury. There is also the matter of suspected electoral fraud to investigate: the socialists claim there are 91 irregularities on the electoral roll, including 19 voters registered as living at the house of one PP candidate.
But while some of the locals are spitting venom at the accused councilors, others – as displayed by Sunday’s election result – seem neither surprised nor fazed by the allegations: “If the mayor has prospered,” says one local shop keeper in defense of Fabra, “all of Vall d’Alba has prospered.”
It seems it will take more than a corruption scandal to bring down the formidable PP in Vall d’Alba.