Iglesias accused of exploiting land-grab law

14th March 2005, Comments 0 comments

14 March 2005, VALENCIA-Julio Iglesias, Spain's singing superstar, stands accused of exploiting Valencia's controversial "land-grab" laws to build a development worth an estimated EUR 529 million.

14 March 2005

VALENCIA-Julio Iglesias, Spain's singing superstar, stands accused of exploiting Valencia's controversial "land-grab" laws to build a development worth an estimated EUR 529 million.

Iglesias has a near 50 percent stake in a property company that is planning to build 1,500 villas and a golf course on unspoilt land belonging to poor farmers in the mountains near the resort of Benidorm, on the Costa Blanca, Britain's Daily Telegraph reported.

The plan has prompted fury among locals in the village of Benichembla, which numbers 120 British expatriates among its population.

Villagers accuse the mayor, Aurelio Llinares, of signing a secret deal with the developers and are campaigning for his resignation.

Valencia's controversial laws, passed in 1994, were aimed at speeding up urban development but were poorly drafted, enabling some unscrupulous property developers to ask for land to be reclassified from rural to urban without the owners' permission.

Property owners have seen their land compulsorily purchased at prices far below commercial values. To make matters worse, they have received huge bills for resulting development, including charges for new roads, street lighting and drainage.

Last week, Llinares confirmed that the company, Coll de Rates SA, which is based in Benidorm, would be invoking the "land grab" law.

He also said that local people would be charged towards the infrastructure of the new development.

"It is the law," Llinares declared. "This will benefit the whole community." Locals, however, have called for the plan to be scrapped.

Feelings are running high in Benichembla, which sits at the upper end of the Jalon Valley.

Locals want to know why Iglesias, who was once named the richest entertainer in Europe by Euro Business magazine and is reputed to be worth EUR 787m, is involved in such a scheme.

Alan Gray, 61, a retired architect who has lived in Spain for 10 years, said: "I came here to live because it is a quiet and beautiful place. Everyone is horrified by what has been concluded in secret.

"This valley will be ruined. This deal was signed two months before anyone in the town knew about it, and it gives the developers permission to use Valencian law to take what land they want, pay just EUR3 per square metre in compensation, and then charge people for infrastructure costs of the new development.

"Three-bedroom houses around here sell for about €350,000. The new properties will cost at least that, and if they build 1,500, the return will be huge.

"We have called on the mayor to quit, but he won't. The feeling against him is such that he has to go to another town if he wants a drink. He dare not come into a bar here."

Kenneth McNeil, 58, a former music industry manager from Blackpool, in the UK, is renovating a house on the mountain side close to Benichembla.

"My property could be right in the path of this development," he said. "The feeling here is such that if they take land and property, in the end somebody is going to get hurt."

A spokesman for Coll de Rates confirmed that Iglesias owned almost 50 per cent of the company but would not comment further on the proposed development, beyond saying: "I think the people of Benichembla have been misinformed about the company's intentions."

He said that under the deal, the company would pay the local town hall €900,000 (£634,000), of which one third has been handed over.

Iglesias, who is believed to be in Florida, could not be reached for comment.

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Subject: Spanish news

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