The stash of half a million packets that in May 2001 ended the political career of the Galician José Ramón Barral Nené, one of the most relevant mayors of the PP in the Rías Baixas, has become an endless judicial ordeal. Not only for the accused, then a councilor in Ribadumia (Pontevedra) and aged 58, but for several judges and prosecutors who over the course of these 22 years were involved in the investigation. Today Barral is 80 years old, he has been under police scrutiny since the eighties and the investigations against him for smuggling have become one of the oldest cases in Spain. The trial that began last year, already at least 15 years late, has been suspended for the fourth time this Friday. And it was for an unexpected reason: Barral’s delicate health, proven by a forensic report that makes the end of this intricate process unpredictable.
The politician who at the end of the last century chained four absolute majorities in his town of 5,000 inhabitants has also been one of the most investigated alleged smugglers in Galicia and the one who has managed to avoid harassment from the Customs Surveillance Service (SVA) for the longest time. This Friday he was unable to appear before the Pontevedra Court due to a serious illness that has not been disclosed due to the Data Protection Law. The court has forced him to present a medical report every 10 days to know his medical progress and be able to set a new trial date.
This new setback in the case occurs after the former politician’s defense won a first battle against the Pontevedra Prosecutor’s Office. The court annulled the police recordings, one of the main evidence to incriminate him in the crime of smuggling, bribery and illicit association. In fact, the prosecutor’s attempt to reach an agreement with the eight defendants was flatly rejected by them because, with the burden of proof at a minimum and with such obvious undue delays, the defenses have considered that this trial was falling apart on its own. .
The court of the fourth section of the Court has tried to have the hearing held in the absence of Barral and for him to be tried separately, but all the defenses rejected the proposal, including the prosecutor and the State lawyer. Of course, the latter have not changed their indictment one bit, considering that the annulment of the wiretapping does not alter the classification of the crimes supposedly committed by the former mayor as the alleged head of a tobacco organization, for which they request a sentence of 10 years in prison and 15.3 million euros in compensation.
Faced with criminal acts that date back almost 30 years and with a strikingly aged dock, the process continues to attract expectation. The investigation began with 43 defendants and the number was reduced to 12 -after four deaths-, including a customs officer and a civil guard. The matter started with a stash of drugs that could never be proven. The rogatory commissions sent to Switzerland, where it was hoped to find a part of Barral’s hidden fortune, completely failed and delayed the process for more than a decade.
Archive image of Nené Barral.M. MIRANDA
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The fact that last February, when the trial began, the Court declared null and void the wiretaps that recorded Barral’s conversations in the mayor’s office was a twist to this complicated matter. The court decision dismantled the accusation that the councilor gave instructions to his lackeys from his office and that he controlled both the alleged tobacco landings and the payment to his uniformed spies, those who allegedly informed him of the movements of the planes and ships of Customs to avoid surprise boardings.
The investigation against Barral has worked to dismantle the double life that the PP mayor supposedly led at the height of his political career. He was then one of the most influential councilors and had managed to employ more than a hundred of his loyal voters in the Provincial Council of Pontevedra, then governed by his party. The Prosecutor’s Office attributes to Barral the operation of two fishing vessels and a merchant ship that introduced tobacco that arrived in containers to Europe. The prosecutor maintains that in 1997 he already introduced 1.17 million packs from Senegal, with a value of 2.2 million euros, and that he had connections in the United States and the Persian Gulf to ship shipments.
The judicial setback for the prosecution in the endless process against Barral will not prevent the Pontevedra Prosecutor’s Office from continuing to try to save the matter. And the person who was mainly responsible for the investigation, territorial head of the Customs Surveillance Service and witness for the prosecution, died last year. However, the Prosecutor’s Office maintains that there is room to act with procedural guarantees and does not rule out appealing the annulment of the punctures once the sentence is handed down.
The former mayor of the PP has always denied the charges that truncated his fourth absolute majority and for which he had to resign. The challenge to the punctures requested by his lawyer has had a domino effect for the rest of the defenses of the 12 accused. The lawyer Carmen Ventoso stated that the investigation has been “prospective”, with tapping of more than 100 phones of about 70 people and for two years. They were authorized to the Customs Surveillance Service (SVA) by the investigating court number 1 of Vilagarcía, which was then directed by Judge José Antonio Vázquez Taín. And that stash of cocaine that was being pursued led to another stash of tobacco that arrived in Vigo between plywood pallets.
Arrested with his brother
In the first session of the trial, in September 2022, in which the previous questions were raised, all the lawyers argued that the crimes are already statute-barred. The matter was also entangled with another previous case opened by the National Court and the lack of jurisdiction to judge the case in Galicia was raised. The defense of the former mayor rejected that Barral had committed a crime of smuggling or bribery, alleging that the four containers in transit seized with Magnum Especial brand packs, which were only sold in the United Kingdom, did not leave the Free Zone of the port of Vigo, when there was still the possibility of declaring the merchandise.
Barral was arrested in his chalet in Ribadumia on the morning of May 14, 2001 by Customs agents who had been monitoring his movements since the 1980s. Almost at the same time, his brother Feliciano, then president of the local executive of the PP, was also arrested. The fall of the Barral brothers shook the foundations of the party in which they had militated under the acronym AP. Barral had to resign, convinced that he had been betrayed from La Moncloa, where his countryman Mariano Rajoy held the first vice presidency of the Aznar Government.
Throughout all this time, the prosecutor has described Barral’s double life dotted with intrigues, betrayals and leaks, all of them reflected in an investigation that began in 1996, a year after his mentor, the businessman Vicente Otero, Terito, died. considered the father of Galician smuggling and also a prominent member of PP. Barral supposedly gave orders from his mayoral phone and received leaks from the same headquarters of the Customs Surveillance Service (SVA) in A Coruña in exchange for succulent amounts of money. The information that these officials allegedly provided to the former mayor to guarantee the transfer of the caches to Galicia even led to the suspension of two operations scheduled by the organization in the months of February and October 1999, the accusation maintains. The public ministry maintains that Barral was dealing with an extensive organization made up of Portuguese, Dutch, Croatian, Swiss, British, Polish and Greek citizens, in addition to the connections that the network had in North America and the Sultanate of Oman for the shipment and transit of the stashes.
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