Barcelona ordered to give award back to ex-minister investigated for crimes against humanity

High Court rules council cannot revoke 1976 decision to give Rodolfo Martín Villa city's gold medal

Former Spanish minister Rodolfo Martín Villa, right, shaking hands with Montserrat abbot Josep M. Soler in 2004 (Courtesy of Endesa)
Former Spanish minister Rodolfo Martín Villa, right, shaking hands with Montserrat abbot Josep M. Soler in 2004 (Courtesy of Endesa) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

January 27, 2022 10:24 PM

The Barcelona council must give former Spanish minister Rodolfo Martín Villa, who is being investigated in Argentina for crimes against humanity, the city's gold medal back, Catalonia's High Court (TSJC) ruled on Thursday.

Martín Villa, now 87, held various public positions in politics during the Francoist dictatorship before becoming a minister during the transition to democracy and was awarded the Catalan capital's highest distinction in 1976 by a mayor he himself had appointed only months earlier.

Just over forty years later, in 2017, the Barcelona council under left-wing mayor Ada Colau decided to revoke this honor, with all parties voting in favor of the motion except center-right Ciudadanos, which abstained, and the conservative People's Party, of which he was a member, voting against it.

Martín Villa, who entered the private sector after leaving politics and became the president of utility company Endesa, then appealed the decision that made its way to Catalonia's highest court, which has sided with the retired politician.

According to the judges, the council can only withdraw awards "when there are unknown contemporary facts at the time the award is granted or due to deeds that are contrary to the reasons for which the prize was awarded," which they do not believe to be the case.

Martín Villa is the subject of an investigation into Franco-era crimes as well as those that took place during the transition to democracy, carried out by Argentine judge María Servini – the pre-democratic 1977 Amnesty Law prevents this from happening in Spain.

Servini has been looking into his ties to the 1976 Vitoria strike massacre in which five workers were killed; the death of Arturo Ruiz, a student who was killed at a protest in 1977; the five deaths that occurred during the 1977 Pro-Amnesty Week; as well as police violence at the 1978 Pamplona San Fermín Festival, among other incidents.

The former Francoist politician, however, has always denied these allegations. "These attributions of responsibility are not only vague and generic, but a detailed analysis of the reports shows they do not hold up," he maintained. "Simply holding office does not make me responsible for all of the events that took place during that period."