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News: Marbella in multi-billion property scandal

The Spanish government last week took the unprecedented decision to dissolve Marbella's town council after a long-running planning dispute erupted into a multi-billion euro corruption scandal. 

For several years the Andalusian authorities have accused Marbella City council with ignoring regional planning rules.  Now new allegations claim that city planning consultant Juan Antonio Roca sold building permits on land that should have been set aside for green belt or agricultural use, charging exorbitant amounts to developers for the privilege.

Over a 15 year period it is claimed that Roca received as much as 10 per cent of the sales price on some 600 developments.  More than 20,000 homes are now judged to have been built illegally and await a court order to be demolished.

The investigation alleges that Roca acted within a wider web of corruption involving council officials, councillors, lawyers and private businessmen.  Roca and 22 others - including the mayor of Marbella Marisol Yagüe and deputy mayoress Isabel Garcia Marcos - have been arrested and face possible charges of money laundering, fraud, embezzlement of public funds, bribery and price fixing.

Raids in connection with the arrests netted an estimated £1.7bn in cash and property including works of art, helicopters, jewellery, thoroughbred horses, cars and antiques.  Police suspect the scam involved the embezzlement of a total of 2.4 billion euros in public funds.

Yagüe claims she is innocent of all allegations of corruption and Roca has said the charges against him were ‘fabricated’.

Not the first scandal to hit Marbella...

With its perfect climate and Mediterranean setting, Marbella has long been a playground for the rich and famous, boasting such celebrities as Antonio Banderas, Bruce Willis and Julio Iglesias amongst its residents.  The resort has also been a key site for property speculation over the last 15 years and according to a survey by Spanish property portal www.idealista.com last month Marbella is now the most expensive place to buy property on the Costa del Sol with prices exceeding £2,000 per square metre.

A lot of this inflationary pressure has come from foreign investors.  But this international interest has not been without controversy and in recent years authorities have noted that the Costa del Sol around Marbella has become a favourite spot for members of Sicilian crime families - as well as Russian and other Slavic organized crime groups - to set up operations.  Last year 'Operation White Whale' was launched targeting a EUR 250 million money laundering scam to conceal profits from drug trafficking.

The two mayors of Marbella preceding Yagüe - Julian Muñoz and Jesus Gil y Gil - were both also charged in corruption scandals.  Jesús Gil y Gil was found guilty of fraud and illegally transferring public money to his professional soccer team, Atlético de Madrid, whilst his successor Julian Muñoz was found guilty of corruption and was forced out of office in August 2003, after a vote of no-confidence from the city council.

Barred from public office for 11 years, Jesus Gil y Gil was appointed as a consultant to the council by Yagüe.

Thousands of properties likely to be demolished

With the trial of the upper echelon of the city hall starting on Saturday, the man now in charge of Marbella council is Tomas Reñones, a former Atletico player who was originally brought to the city by Gil.  Members of the PP, PSOE, IU and PA meeting at the Diputación de Málaga today have decided that a new committee will be established on April 19th.  This new administration will run Marbella Town Hall until elections in May next year.

Whilst the final court decision on the future of the thousands of illegally built properties is yet to be decided, it seems likely that demolition will take place.  Other local authorities have knocked down properties when it has been discovered they have been built without proper planning permission and more recently Marbella council has been working towards a compromise.

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