Spain enthralled as huge corruption trial begins

 

THE LARGEST municipal corruption trial in Spanish judicial history got under way in Malaga yesterday. The case is expected to last at least 12 months.

The prosecutor is demanding a total of 500 years for the 95 accused – among them three former mayors of the Costa del Sol resort of Marbella, senior town hall officials and many leading businessmen.

They took their seats in the dock in a specially enlarged courtroom, charged with a string of offences, including bribery and corruption, money laundering, tax evasion and misuse of municipal funds.

It is just over five years since it was realised that €2.4 billion of Marbella’s municipal funds had been plundered.

It seems that the web of corruption began during the term in office of the Grupo Independista Liberal, the political party formed by the late Jésus Gil y Gil, the flamboyant mayor who drove a silver Rolls Royce, a gift from a Saudi Arabian businessman, who occasionally rode his white stallion through the streets and later took over the Atlético Madrid football club.

When the scale of corruption emerged in 2005 and so many officials were detained, the regional government was forced to step in – the first time in the era of Spanish democracy that an elected council has been expelled from office.

They found the vaults empty and Marbella over €512 million in debt, with no money to pay even the smallest bills to local businesses, rubbish collectors and cleaners.

The alleged mastermind behind the web of corruption is Juan Antonio Roca, the one-time urbanisation consultant to Marbella, who is accused of amassing a vast fortune by acting as intermediary between the town hall and developers to arrange building permits, change zoning plans for development and construction on green zones and performing other favours for his contacts.

Mr Roca is said to have invested his ill-gotten millions in property, country estates, thoroughbred horses and hundreds of works of art – he is even said to have had a Picasso painting in his cloakroom.

The prosecutor is demanding 30 years in jail for Mr Roca, who is currently behind bars for an unconnected corruption case. His wife and daughter, as well as his French art dealer, are also on the long list of the accused.

Another of the high-profile accused is Julian Muñoz, a former mayor who achieved notoriety for his well-publicised love affair with Isabel Pantoja, one of Spain’s leading singers, for whom he left his wife of over 20 years.

Ms Pantoja has not been charged in this case, but she does face separate charges of money laundering.

A former deputy mayor, Isabel Garcia, is alleged to have received large sums of money in cash to help Mr Roca in his business deals.

When they searched her luxury home, police found almost €400,000 in €500 notes in a safe.

The prosecutor is demanding 12 years for Ms Garcia and also for Marisol Yague, mayor at the time of the state intervention, who is described as “Roca’s puppet” for acting on his behalf.

The case has aroused great publicity in Spain, where it is headline news. More than 300 journalists and photographers have been accredited to cover the trial.

So great is the interest that it has been likened to the excitement surrounding the El Gordo(Fat One) Christmas lottery, which brings the country to a virtual standstill.