Zaplana's youthful friends, from the 'El Picarol' club to the dock

The moment had a strong symbolic charge.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
11 April 2024 Thursday 17:17
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Zaplana's youthful friends, from the 'El Picarol' club to the dock

The moment had a strong symbolic charge. At least for those of us who have followed Eduardo Zaplana's career since he became mayor of Benidorm. His friend from his youth, Joaquín Barceló, alias "Pachano", the same one with whom he attended high school and with whom he set up the festive club "El Picarol" in Benidorm, betrayed his loyalty. He recognized himself as his "front man", as the man who moved Zaplana's money abroad; bribes that were allegedly obtained from the ITV concessions and the wind farms. It happened on Wednesday, and that day the former president's model of friendship suffered a major leak, with unpredictable consequences.

Eduardo Zaplana knows well the value of friendship, even more so if it is useful to achieve personal, political and also economic objectives; even the alleged criminals who are now being tried. He has never denied his long list of contacts and taking advantage of it: "I have done a thousand of those things," he told the court when it came up that he put a friend in contact with a senior manager at Santander. His most intimate circle, and his most loyal, was forged in Benidorm from his family and leisure relationships such as in the "El Picarol" club. Some of his members have been by his side all their lives.

That is why the statement, due to an agreement with the prosecution, of Joaquín Barceló, who along with his wife Felisa López, was a member of the festive group, was significant. "Pachano" held positions at Terra Mítica, at the Benidorm Tourism Development Center and at the Valencian Tourism Agency, in addition to being Zaplana's "front man." Other members of El Picarol were José Joaquín Ripoll, former president of the Alicante Provincial Council and prominent Zaplanista, Juan Manuel Cabot, who was general secretary of the PPCV, Francisco Murcia and the 'former minister' of the Environment Fernando Modrego. Ramón Campos, Josefa Pérez and her cousin, Manuel Pérez Fenoll, became councilors.

That club became a meeting place for Valencian popular power starting in 1995, the year in which Zaplana became president of the Generalitat Valenciana. The former Minister of Public Works, the late José Ramón García Antón, passed through there; the then mayor of Alicante, Luis Díaz Alperi; the former president of the Alicante Provincial Council, Julio de España; or the Minister of Culture at that time, Francisco Camps, who would later occupy his position; as well as Carlos Fabra, Luis Concepción or Francisco Murcia.

This group ended up breaking up, in part due to the battle waged by the "zaplanistas" against the "campsistas" (loyal to Francisco Camps. Some of its founders reinvented themselves some time later with the name "Los que quemos", in which they were Ramón Campos, Joaquín Barceló and Juan Manuel Cabot, a group that Zaplana went to when he could. "Pachano" has remained faithful and loyal until the last moment, until he learned that the prosecution was asking for eight years in prison against him. That's why Wednesday he betrayed his close friend and narrated in detail the operation that allowed Zaplana to make off with 20 million euros and move them through different countries.

Next week, his former chief of staff, Juan Francisco García, and the brothers Juan and Vicente Cotino, winners of the ITV and wind farms and who allegedly delivered the bribes to Zaplana, will testify. These three have also agreed with the prosecution. Their loyalties were built from a political relationship, in the case of García, and from economic interest, in the case of Juan Cotino's nephews. These are more fragile loyalties, nothing to do with that of "Pachano." The show has only just begun.