October 14, 2008


As soon as we got to the wedding last Saturday, it immediately became obvious why Sra. Noriega had wanted me to escort her and so arrive separately from her 'friend', Juan Antonio, another guest. Whilst she must be in her early seventies, he looked at least twenty five years younger and was clearly not approved of by those members of her family present who kept giving him steely, sideways looks from 'their' side of the church.

The situation reminded me of that of the Countess of Alba, 82, the leading local socialite - an elderly version of the UK's Princess Eugenie - and her boyfriend, Alfonso Diez, 30 years her junior. Whenever these two appear in public, marriage rumours, much to the disgust of her family, start to fly in the Spanish media. Like, for instance, at the recent opening in Puerto Banus of Valentino - attended also by Mark Thatcher and his wife, photographed champagne in hand, smiling and looking very relaxed, thus confirming all reports of his departure from nearby El Padronal to be extremely premature.

Sra. Noriega's relationship with Juan Antonio also laid to rest for good another rumour - that she might somehow be related to General Noriega (pictured above). Although of a similar age and background, that's where the similarity definitely ends.

Sra. Noriega is divorced from her husband who still resides in Colombia. And, as for General Noriega, the deposed dictator, he's apparently still languishing in a Florida jail, having been due for release last September when the French government successfully applied for his extradition to face a 10 year sentence passed in absentia for money laundering. A fierce legal battle is currently being waged between the USA and France to decide his fate since he claims the latter won't honour his legal status as a POW. And this from a man who has also received a long jail term in absentia in Panama for murder and human rights abuses!

On the way back from the ceremony, Sra. Noriega started to open up, doubtlessly moved both by the emotion of the event and her tense conversation with Juan Antonio, albeit briefly snatched amid the resentfully disapproving glances of her relatives.

The apartment occupied by Juan Antonio is, she began, in Los Monteros, an upmarket Urbanizacion or residential estate fronting the coast in Marbella. But it doesn't belong to him but, she ruefully admitted, to her. She had put him there. And hence her great fear now - at not just losing the apartment but him too!

By this time I was completely lost and the confusion must have shown on my face because she suddenly told me to stop and pull into a roadside cafe just outside Ronda. After we had ordered - black coffee for me and a double fino for her - she pointed to the document in her bag that I'd seen her earlier frantically discussing with Juan Antonio and that was causing her so much distress. She explained it was a copy of the latest Minutes of the Los Monteros Property Owners Community (LMPOC), a legal entity with far-reaching enforcement rights representing all the home owners.

LMPOC, it transpires, is desperately trying to get JA's apartment block demolished, together with La Gaviota, the home of Antonio Banderas and his wife, Melanie Griffiths, since both were illegally erected. The apartment block plot was originally designated a green zone whilst the Banderas house - a beacon of whiteness outside and in, the interior design colour palette manifesting all its possible monochrome nuances - sits less than glamourously on a disused sewage plant!

In recent years, Marbella Town Hall's reputation has been shattered by numerous corruption scandals relating to similar illegal property deals and other crimes which I'll refer to in greater detail in a later post. With regard to illegal property development, the policy of the recently elected Mayor of Marbella, Angela Munoz, is to demolish only those buildings which are unoccupied - to the considerable relief of all the ex-pat owners of occupied, unlicenced properties.

LMPOC responded by suing Marbella Town Hall in the Andalusian High Court and winning! But, in open defiance of the High Court's ruling, Marbella Town Hall is still refusing to demolish; the Banderas house together with Sra. Noriega's apartment block is still standing, and LMPOC vows to fight on regardless!

And Sra. Noriega remains distraught - at the potential consequences. For JA told her at the wedding that if he's forced out of the apartment, he's so fed up with all the stress and uncertainty during the past year he'll leave Andalucia - and her...

So one wedding and one threat of 'divorce' on the very same day. All this and problems on my return with P too!

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