Olga Lizana poses in uniform. On the right, the article in ‘The Times’. :: óscar chamorro
Olga Lizana has a strange selection of things stored on her mobile phone: photos of super-muscular thugs with their hands tied behind their backs, police reports and videos of arrests in luxury villas.
“Look, this is the photo the British police once sent us. He looks like a normal chubby happy chappie, doesn’t he? Well, here he is in a more up-to-date photo. He has become an expert in Vale Tudo [a form of full-contact unarmed combat from Brazil] now and looks totally different. Nobody would recognise him, which is why I always say we need fingerprints. This chap was so muscular that we had to put two sets of handcuffs on him, joined together, because one set wouldn’t go round both his arms”.
She is describing British drug trafficker Mark Alan Lilley, once one of most wanted fugitivesin the UK where he was sentenced to 24 years in prison.
However, it was not the British police but the impressive Olga Lizana, one of the few women in charge of an elite police unit, who caught him in Alhaurín de la Torre. He had built a house with a ‘panic room’ where he hid. Unsuccessfully.
If anybody imagined that a female police inspector spends her time sitting in her office looking at documents, they can forget it.
When she describes the arrests, Olga Lizano’s eyes shine: “We went inside and spent 50 minutes searching for him. We knew he hadn’t left, because we had a helicopter outside, watching. His girlfriend was asleep and there were some trousers in the shower, still wet, so we knew he had to be there. In the end, in the dressing room, we realised that there was a false panel in the wall. He was in the ‘panic room’and he was following our movements on CCTV. We said to him, ‘Either you come out or we tear the wall down.’
“He came out, obviously. We took him from there to the police station and then to the court. The British sent a military aircraft to collect him, because of course you couldn’t put someone like him on a normal commercial flight.”
Twelve officers from the National Police’s International Fugitive Localisation Group are Olga Lizana’s assistants. They have been under her command since 2010. Before that, she spent eight years in San Sebastián, five of them fighting terrorism and three as head of the police escort service. She spoke to our reporter at the police HQ in Canillas, in Madrid, and was still keyed-up about her latest capture, which had just taken place in the city: a Mexican wanted for fraud, who was waiting for her in her office with his lawyer.
“A fugitive is anybody who has committed a crime and whose whereabouts are unknown. In our case, as the international group, we deal with criminals who have broken the law in their own country and Spaniards who have done the same abroad, all of whom are subject to arrest warrants and could be in Spain.”
Here, the Spanish police do not have the assistance of the ‘reward’ posters typical in the USA. “We never give money. People cooperate with us because they want to. I know I shouldn’t boast, but we are among the best police forces in the world. The results show that.”
So what are the results? So far this year the group Olga Lizana leads has caught 112 fugitives. In 2013 it was 275; in 2012, 335. She has received three awards from the British police and the French police considered that she deserved their Medal of Honour. Of course, these distinctions are shared by her officers.
Lizana is more famous outside Spain; in January she was featured in a double page report in The Times, which named her “The scourge of the British gangsters”. The article referred to her as “The Spanish Sarah Lund who is cleaning up the Costa del Crime”. (Sarah Lund is the lead character in a series about the Danish police, ‘The Killing’, which has a cult following in the UK .)
In Spain, her face and her achievements are now becoming better known. In fact, her work is reflected on a daily basis in the pages of the newspapers: in the last week of March alone, her group detained a British paedophile who had abused a five-year-old girl; a Spaniard who was wanted in Germany for sexually assaulting his partner’s eight-year-old daughter; and a Romanian for raping a woman and a minor.
Living for her work
The article in The Times, written by Graham Keeley, offered an indication of the UK’s gratitude to this Spanish police officer. “The steady stream of British criminals arrested in Spain only serves to perpetuate its image as a haven for crooks. That was until Lizana arrived,” writes Keeley.
There are about 800,000 subjects of Queen Elizabeth II in Spain. “So, it is easy for any fugitive from that country to come here and hide,” explains Lizana, who, according to the article, lives for her work.
In the UK, at least, she is on the way to becoming a legend, no doubt in part because of the confidence she transmits when she speaks: face to face, she seems more than capable of disarming anyone who intends to break the law.
Andrew Terence Moran, also British, who was detained last year in Calpe, Alicante, for example.
He had been one of the most wanted fugitives from his country since 2007, following an attack on a van carrying the takings from a supermarket. They were armed with a revolver, a baseball bat and a machete. A court in London ordered him to be remanded in custody, but when he heard the verdict he attacked an officer, jumped out of the dock and rushed past security guards.
But then he came up against Lizana: “We wanted to arrest him in November 2012,” she recalls, “But when we tried he managed to get in front of our cars (she was driving one of them), and at the roundabout he headed in the wrong direction up a road in a 4x4 at 180 kilometres an hour and, obviously, we couldn’t follow him. We searched his house in Murcia, and I took a machete off him, but he escaped. And I found him again in Calpe. He had another machete by then, and he slept with it under his pillow.”
Moran was sentenced to six and a half years in jail, just for the offences committed in Spain, and then he will have to answer to justice in his own country.
Lizana’s salary of 2,500 euros a month seems low for someone who is away from home 40 weeks of the year, sometimes works 24 hours a day and has received international recognition even though she has only been at the head of this group for three years, but she doesn’t complain. “That’s how things are... I have a survival kit prepared so I can travel at any moment because I’m like Willy Fog; I can’t anticipate what will happen. When I come to Malaga it isn’t to catch one criminal, although that is very important, but to get three or four in one go. I go out with a colleague and check homes, bars... Then they phone me and tell me I have to stop off in Madrid and then go on to Barcelona...”.
On the National Police Internet forum there was talk about the article in the British newspaper and congratulations for Lizana and her colleagues. Most commented on her salary. One, identified as ‘Frankcme, subdirector general’, summed up the general feeling: “2,500 euros is a miserable salary for a Police Inspector.” Another, called ‘Sebastián, inspector jefe’, asks (possibly with a certain personal interest) “Are you married?” No, she has no partner or children. “Not everybody could put up with this,” says Lizana, as she puffs on a cigarette.
Many of the warrants come from Romania and Poland. “But nationality doesn’t have a lot to do with it,” she says. “Those two countries issue arrest warrants for anything, even for taking a packet of cigarettes from a bar. The Germans are wanted for crimes involving money, fraud, non-payment of taxes, and they are in Mallorca; they are not violent. The British people we are looking for are wanted for homicides, drugs, offences against sexual freedom and against children...”
The Pole and chicken
Lizana tells the story of the Polish man: “He had carried out a robbery in his own country: two shoes and a chicken! He had been here for four years and we had to arrest him. He spoke perfect Spanish and he said to me: “I was hungry and cold and I stole a chicken and the boots.”
We cannot get involved in cases, we do our work and the judge will decide whether to send him to Poland. We try not to get close to people. They come and tell you real tragedies. Now we have South Americans turning up at the police station with their suitcases, because things are so bad that they want to go home, and they can’t.”
This police inspector has a strong warning for those who have committed crimes: “Spain is no longer a paradise for criminals. I have this message for them: no matter how well you camouflage yourself, we are going to find you.”
It is difficult to hide from Olga Lizana. “The criminals have families; certain dates are important for them. They make phone calls, they take flights... we have to wait for them to make a mistake,” she says. “If you spend years looking for a British criminal and suddenly their parents come to Spain....”
Nor can criminals relax with the passing of time. “Some cases are reported years after the crime is committed. We had a Spanish man who was wanted for 14 cases of rape in the UK. He committed the offences in the 1980s and nothing happened at the time, but one of the girls reported him when she was 18, years later. He had returned to Spain and thought he had got away with it,” she explains.