SEVILLE – Andalucia is dealing with a dire shortage of water. However, this fact has not stoped two supervisory officials from enriching themselves through water theft.
They allowed farmers additional water withdrawal from Andalucia’s main river in exchange for cash, trips and hunting days. In the end, however, some broke the agreed silence pact. Maybe they felt guilty due to the ongoing drought and the dramatic consequences.
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The drought in Andalucia is so severe that restrictions on drinking water use have already been imposed in some areas. Moreover, quotas have been set in many areas for watering agricultural land.
Despite this, two regulators of the Andalucian government’s water management agency were involved in a lucrative illegal trade in water. For this, they were rewarded with cash, crates of fruit, trips and hunting days. Those rewards were handed out by farmers who were able to water their land more than they were allowed to.
According to sources from the newspaper El Confidencial, the two suspects had been doing so for years. They were getting away with it because the farmers had mutually agreed to a duty of confidentiality (a well-known practice in the mafia world). But the drought still loosened some tongues.
The suspicious supervisors
The two officials, who were about to retire, have been detained by the police. They felt above the law because they had gotten away with it for years. However, this illegal situation has now come to an end. The scarcity of water and the sense of duty to adhere to the quotas set led some farmers in the La Vega area near Seville to break the silence. Now that the number of square metres with crops is decreasing due to the lack of water, the ‘omertà’ (the Italian term for the duty of silence in the mafia world) is being broken.
The criminal investigation
Specialists from the nature conservation service of the Spanish national government noted a lack of control over both the above- and underground water abstraction in the area concerned. They started their investigation which they focused from the outset on the supposed “passivity of the supervisory river watches”. During the investigation, the two supervisors came into the picture.
The way of doing things
They are suspected of preparing “false inspection reports for the National Water Management Agency” in the course of their duties. They also warned the agricultural companies in advance when an inspection visit would be made. In this way, they were able to “remove every object from which it could be deduced that water was being illegally removed from the river” in a timely manner.
The suspects are said to have “tampered with the measuring equipment”, which registered the amount of water that was taken from the river for irrigation. The environmental police investigation found that some were watering “up to five times more” than allowed by the water management agency.
The discovered loot
The police found that the two supervisors had received money and agricultural products in return for these illegal activities. In addition, according to the police, the suspects received, among other things, “free holiday accommodation in homes of the also suspected companies” and they received free “film trips”.
Consequences: an even greater water shortage
This illicit use of water – very bad in this dry season – forced the water management agency to divert water from other areas to the Guadalquivir to avoid disrupting that river’s ecological system. As a result, other water users were affected.
Both the two supervisors and six agricultural entrepreneurs are criminally prosecuted for bribery and forgery.