Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Marisol Yagüe became the third Marbella mayor in a row to receive a jail sentence for corruption on Wednesday when police showed up at her home (she had taken time off from work to recover from weekend liposuction) to arrest her. And she wasn’t alone: across town, officials at city hall were told to step away from their keyboards as police evacuated the building to search for evidence. Eventually they arrested an additional 21 people, including the lieutenant mayor and the city’s advisor on urban growth, and froze some 2.4 billion euros in assets. The latest detentions brings the number of Marbella’s top officials investigated to 14 (out of a total of 27).
Unrestrained construction has a history in this Costa del Sol resort town of making politicians unwarrantedly rich. Ever since Jesús Gil, shady real estate magnate and flamboyant owner of the Atlético Madrid football team, became mayor in 1991, developers have operated with impunity, secure in the knowledge that building licenses can be theirs if they’re willing to line a few official pockets. In fact, 30,000 out of Marbella’s 80,000 homes are illegal. And although Yague herself was ordered by the regional government of Andalusia to review the questionable licenses granted by her two predecessors, the mayor— an ardent disciple of Gil—has repeatedly avoided taking any action.
The investigation into city hall’s latest shenanigans began in November 2005, when wiretaps in a money laundering investigation—this one directed against local businessmen and lawyers—produced evidence that implicated the mayor and her cohort. Last week, the regional government of Andalusia stripped the Marbella government of its oversight powers over real estate development, and today, Zapatero's Council of Ministers met to decide whether to simply dissolve the entire municipal government. With local elections just 14 months away, it’s anyone’s guess whether this latest exposure of wrong-doing will be enough to break Marbella's long tradition of corruption. Disgusted citizens have been marching through Marbella to protest their government’s greed. But they did that in 1999, too, and seven years later, graft remains as much a part of the Marbella scene as tummy tucks and year-round tans.
Why am I so interested in this tawdry story? Because in college, I dated Marisol Yagüe's brother. Who knows what riches could have been mine had I stuck with that relationship?