December 7, 2008


Marbella has long since lost the cachet it once enjoyed when favoured by Europe's elite, by luminaries such as Bismarck, Rothschild, Metternich and Thyssen. Habitués such as Roger Moore and Sean Connery moved out when Marbella became a catchphrase for vulgarity and sleaze during Gil's megalomaniac regime, and crass property developments sprouting up everywhere blocked their sea views.

That was also the era when less discreet jet-setters moved in. The late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia regularly had in tow a 3,000-strong entourage at his Marbella palace, the arms dealer Adnan Kashoggi's gold-encrusted yacht resided in the harbour, and the Syrian arms trafficker, Monzer al-Kassar, arranged deals from his mansion, until he was arrested last June on an international arrest warrant issued by the US, accused of supplying rocket launchers and machine guns to Colombia's Farc guerrillas.

There remain countless Russian and Italian drug-trafficking mafias who settle turf wars with wild west-style running gunbattles. Last year police detained five members of the Mazzarella family, suspected of leading roles in the Neapolitan Camorra. The family had long used Marbella as a transit point for trafficking drugs from Morocco.

Gil resigned in 2002, immersed in financial scandals, and died in 2004, whereupon Roca became the "epicentre of a vast coruption network" according to investigators. Indeed, Roca essentially bought his successors as mayor, Julian Muñoz and Marisol Yague, both of whom were also arrested. Police seized more than €45,000 in cash from the home of Muñoz's girlfriend, the singer Isabel Pantoja, which she claimed were for household expenses.

"Some of Marbella's councillors were on Roca's payroll. They were rewarded for their loyalty and submission rather than for each building licence they issued," Judge Torres noted, adding that Roca manipulated the councillors, charged property developers for licences and permits in urban green zones, and laundered the dirty money through numerous shell companies. Assets confiscated and seized by the authorities amount to some €2.4bn.

Furthermore, Roca amassed two huge Andalusian estates, including an orange grove, a stud farm with fighting bulls and 103 thoroughbred horses, luxury hotels, three palaces in Madrid, beachside property developments, a heliport, a private plane, and artworks valued at €30m. When police raided his homes in April 2006, they impounded 275 paintings, including works by Picasso, and stuffed animals, including a polar bear, a rhinoceros and in one dark corner… an elephant.

And for Marbella too, Roca, like his stuffed animal, remains the elephant at the back of the room.

No comments: