What is the real 'Costa del Crime'?

19th May 2004, Comments 0 comments

A multi-million euro international money-laundering scandal in the Costa del Sol has exposed how much of a hold foreign mafia gangs have on Spain. Graham Keeley reports.

The '"tip of the iceberg" was how the Spanish Attorney General Candido Conde-Pumpido described it.

Girona

Authorities in Girona are concerned about East European 'mafias'

The latest international money-laundering scam to envelope the Costa del Sol was, he said,  just proof of how a "monster of the international mafia" had set itself up in wealthy tourist  resorts in the southern region of Andalusia, such as Marbella, using a law firm as a front.

Conde-Pumpido was referring to the scandal which has so-far led to 41 arrests of nationals from six countries who allegedly have "numerous connections between groups of organised international crimes and a number of suspects implicated in Spain or abroad in serious criminal activities".

Illegally siphoned funds from Russia's crippled oil company Yukos had been discovered as part of the investigation, something the oil company has denied.

One of the key suspects is the head of the law firm, Fernando del Valle, 57, a Chilean citizen, who is said to have set up a network of property and front companies whose traces disappear into offshore accounts in the nearby British territory of Gibraltar, press reports said.

Some of the welter of documents seized by police since the weekend are understood to implicate an array of companies who have their fiscal base in Gibraltar. The tiny territory has just 30,000 residents but 80,000 companies.

Police said they suspect his law firm of having connections with various groups allegedly involved in narcotics, prostitution and other organized criminal activities.

The lengthy police operation code-named "White Whale" relied heavily on close cooperation from police around Europe.

According to unconfirmed reports, prosecutors from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands, Russia and the United States were expected to go to Marbella to take part in the investigation.

"Everything indicates that the investigation is not finished, either in Spain or at the international level," police director Victor Garcia Hidalgo told Cadena Ser radio station.

Police sources said up to EUR 600 million may have been laundered in one of the largest such operations ever dismantled in Europe, and certainly the biggest in Spain.

*quote1*To date, authorities say they have evidence only of EUR 250 million,invested in aircraft, fast cars and luxury goods.

It is the most obvious evidence of the extent to which foreign mafias have a established a grip on Spain.

In the past three years, the Spanish National Police Force has watched a steady rise in organised crime by gangs from Albania, Romania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Yugoslavia.

Eastern European gangsters are increasingly getting a tighter grip on Western society - and Spain is no exception.

But though the latest scandal has blown up on these gangs' traditional 'stomping ground – the so-called Costa del Crime in southern Spain– this is not the whole story.

Instead of southern Spain, with the traditional 'Costa del Crime' which was once home to renegade British villains, gangs are spreading to the Costa Brava, in north-eastern Spain.

To open fire is normal for them and the fear of being cut down is nothing. – Jose Maria Mena, Attorney General of Catalonia

It is happening at exactly the same time as this part of Spain becomes more popular with many younger foreigners, who want to make a new life or start a business on the Costa Brava.

Fernando del Valle

Indeed, police said godfathers of the Italian mafia were increasingly using Barcelona as a new base.

Since Christmas, three of the most prominent 'capos' or bosses have been arrested in the Catalan capital.

They include Raffalle Amato, head of the Camorra or Neapolitan mafia, who lived a life of discreet luxury until his arrest in February.

Before that Luca Avallone, head of the mafia in central Italy, was arrested in Barcelona airport en route back to his own country

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