|Mathilde of Belgium meets Spanish ambassador Ignacio Jesús Matellanes|
Martínez during a New Year reception. Photograph: Mark Renders/Getty Images
Spain has dismissed its ambassador to Belgium over allegations he failed to adequately represent the country abroad, making no contact with the Belgian government during his tenure.
Ignacio Jesús Matellanes Martínez has been relieved of his duties on the grounds of “absenteeism and abuse of power” following repeated complaints from embassy staff.
“The worst of it is that he didn’t represent the country at all,” an embassy source said. “No one comes here. Matellanes doesn’t have meetings with anyone, he does nothing and prevents staff from taking even the smallest initiative.”
The Spanish foreign ministry said he had “burnt all his bridges” with the Belgian government, adding that he had showed similar failings during a previous posting to Nicaragua.
In a report to the foreign ministry, an inspector said the day-to-day management of the embassy was “paralysed by absenteeism and the head of mission’s negative attitude, the denial of any role for diplomatic personnel and a total absence of internal coordination”.
Another source said: “He hardly ever came to work and when he did he’d go to mass from 11am till 12 on a working day. He wanted to be ambassador to the Vatican. When [Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI] was pope he said he was in Opus Dei, but since Francis took over he goes to mass with the Jesuits.”
The report said there was a climate of mistrust and tension because of the ambassador allegedly “exercising his authority through fear, threats and confrontations”. This was reflected, according to the report, in the “unusually high number of staff signed off sick with depression”.
Of the embassy’s 20 staff, a chauffeur, a secretary and two diplomats took time off with depression. “The atmosphere is stifling,” an embassy employee said. “Matellanes treats people badly, he makes hurtful remarks, changes people’s holiday dates, lacks respect and forces them do work that makes no sense. And he treats women as inferior to men. In his eyes they are weaker and less effective.”
In his report, the inspector said the ambassador’s treatment of staff amounted to harassment. He subjected staff to “intense, repeated, methodical and prolonged psychological violence, using his position of power to create a hostile and humiliating environment that upset the victim’s personal and working life”.
Spain’s foreign ministry has faced criticism for failing to take action against the ambassador earlier, allegedly because of Matellanes’s close friendship with the MEP Francisco Millán, the prime minister’s brother-in-law.