The Criminal Court 1 of Huelva has acquitted the former mayors of Almonte Francisco Bella (PSOE) and José Antonio Domínguez (PP) and 13 farmers who were tried last March for an alleged crime of illegal extraction of underground water from the natural area of Doñana. Those indicted for a crime against natural resources and the environment were accused of causing “risk of serious damage” to the balance of the park’s natural systems and, alternatively, of a crime of usurpation-diversion of water.
Against the sentence, notified this Thursday to the parties, it is possible to file an appeal before the Provincial Court of Huelva. The magistrate acquits the 15 defendants, the former mayors as accomplices and the rest as co-perpetrators of the crime, and seven entities linked to the administrators, as the Superior Court of Justice of Andalusia (TSJA) has made public in a statement.
The judge considers it proven that the Andalusian Institute of Agrarian Reform (IARA), an organism of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, signed between 1996 and 2006 several agreements with the Almonte City Council to carry out an experience of introduction of strawberry cultivation techniques compatible with the promotion of organic agriculture and livestock within the framework of sustainability.
For this, the IARA gave the City Council a few hectares of land determined in the Matalagrana area, which is part of the Doñana Natural Area. According to the judge, the object of the agreements was the agricultural exploitation of these plots, so the Almonte City Council, “as a mere intermediary”, signed agreements with the Matalagrana Farmers Association through which it previously assigned the hectares of land agreed with the IARA for its exploitation in exchange for the payment of a fee that was dedicated exclusively to fixing the access roads and similar actions. In the aforementioned agreements, “there was talk of the use of non-aggressive techniques with minimal irrigation support” and “the City Council was entrusted with the monitoring and surveillance of the crops,” according to the sentence dated Thursday, December 23.
In this way, the judge assures that the 13 accused as administrators of different agricultural operations in the area, in execution of the aforementioned agreements, made use of the soundings to extract water from the 27 Almonte Marismas aquifer to irrigate their respective farms “in the belief that they were legal because they had the corresponding authorizations ”.
Aquifer 27 feeds the 2,410 square kilometers of the Doñana nature reserve, the most emblematic protected area in Spain with 1,440 species of flora, in addition to some 300 birds and mammals such as the Iberian lynx.
The chief prosecutor of Huelva, Alfredo Flórez, who brought the accusation, has affirmed this Thursday after hearing the sentence that he deeply regrets learning of the ruling from the press and much more that “after nine months the magistrate’s commitment to notify it at a hearing is breached public and wait to notify it on December 23 ”. Flórez has added that he will study a possible appeal when the sentence is correctly communicated to the Public Prosecutor’s Office. In the trial, the Prosecutor’s Office requested for the former mayors a year in jail and the payment of a fine of 2,160 euros, as well as six months of special disqualification for a profession or trade related to agriculture, while the farmers faced two years of prison, a fine of 7,200 euros, and special disqualification for everything related to agriculture for one year.
In the acquittal, the judge argues that the farmers believed they were acting “under the protection of the competent administrations in matters of water and the environment, without altering the water balance of the aquifer and without generating a risk of serious damage to the protected area of Doñana. , as well as on the species it harbors and their habitats ”. While the two former mayors, also according to the magistrate, “lacked the powers to order the defendants to suspend irrigation and to close the soundings,” so they “could not carry out any behavior that could favor an alleged illegal extraction of waters ”.