Former mayor Juan Sánchez is taken away by police officers after questioning on Monday evening. Josele-Lanza
Wiping clean the image the rest of the world has of the western Costa del Sol is still an uphill struggle as yet another case links the area to planning corruption, money laundering and mafia organisations. This time the attention has shifted to Casares where the former mayor Juan Sánchez was arrested on Monday.
Named ‘Operation Majestic’ the investigation links Sánchez to suspected money laundering operations on the part of an Eastern European mafia organisation known as Kremlyoskaya through real estate investment on the Costa del Sol. The case takes its name from the Majestic development, a Mediterranean complex with 500 properties in the municipality of Casares. The “irregular” licence granted to the developers and an agreement signed between Juan Sánchez and Majestic for the acquisition of two allegedly undervalued plots of municipal land is, according to sources, at the centre of the investigation.
Arrested along with the former mayor on Monday was his wife, an Estepona-based lawyer and a woman of Ukrainian origin, allegedly linked to a mafia organisation, as well as a fifth person suspected of money laundering. Four others were called in for questioning and given indictments, including the current Town Planning councillor, Pedro González and the lawyer Rafael Duarte, who was a consultant at the town hall at the time of the alleged crimes. Both have been accused of corrupt practice.
After being questioned by the judge on Monday the former mayor was accused of corrupt practice, bribery and money laundering and remanded in custody pending the payment of 200,000 euros in bail. The court refused to accept the defence lawyer’s offer of Sánchez’s home as a guarantee, demanding the payment in cash.
In order to raise the sum the former mayor’s family opened a bank account into which local residents paid 50,000 euros in just one day. Until the bail money is raised Sánchez will remain in Alhaurín de la Torre jail.
The ‘Majestic’ investigation, carried out as a joint National Police and Guardia Civil operation, is currently focussed on establishing the extent and origins of the wealth of Juan_Sánchez and his family, assets which judicial sources describe as “unusual”.
The couple own their family home, a small office, several garage spaces and a flat, which they apparently acquired with lottery winnings. Nevertheless detectives have been investigating the couple’s links with other properties and the origins of funds in number of bank accounts which have been analysed by the tax office.
During Monday’s search of the Town Hall detectives took away documents related to the Majestic deals. The investigation remains open.
Five ONCE tickets in a coat pocket
Juan Sánchez’s wife told the judge on Monday that she came across five winning ONCE tickets by chance while putting one of her husband’s jackets away in the wardrobe.
It turned out that those five allegedly “forgotten about” tickets were worth a total of 150,000 euros.
The winnings raised the suspicions of detectives looking into the “unusual” wealth of the former mayor. However the explanations offered by both husband and wife during questioning coincided. When Sánchez’s wife noticed that the period to claim winnings was about to expire she went to check whether they had won anything. The former mayor apparently told the judge that he had bought the tickets in Marbella.
Nevertheless sources maintain that one of the people arrested on Monday and interrogated on Tuesday is accused of having given Sánchez the winning tickets.
A former mayor, much loved in his small community
The 50,000 euros raised by family and friends of Juan Sánchez in just one day is evidence of to what extent the former mayor is highly regarded in Casares, a municipality with no more than 5,300 inhabitants. The arrest has caused consternation among local people. Sánchez has been involved in local politics in_Casares since before the arrival of democracy, when he joined the Communist Party at the age of 18. Seven years later, in 1979, he became Mayor of Casares in the first democratic elections. After his party joined the Izquierda Unida coalition he continued to win elections with a majority until 1995 when he lost control of the Town Hall to the GIL group. Four years later GIL won again but the mayor resigned, putting Sánchez back at the helm. He continued to win elections from then on, standing down in 2009 to concentrate on his role at the helm of the Mancomunidad, a position he lost when the PP took over the organisation last year.
Eastern European investment on the Costa
The investigation named by police as ‘Majestic’ began at the end of 2010. Detectives were on the trail of an organisation suspected of laundering money in Spain. The laundered funds apparently came from the criminal activities of the Russian mafia organisation named Kremlyoskaya.
The 70 year old Ukrainian woman arrested on Monday is apparently the mother of the man whose name appears as the sole administrator of the Majestic Construction Development Group S.L. in the Mercantile Register. On Monday police searched the home of another man who appears on the register as the company’s representative. The investigation is still open and according to sources more than 30 people are under investigation. The authorities, say sources, are also trying to locate several people related to the Majestic group.