SPAIN: AUTHORITIES LINK ORGANISED CRIME AND PLANNING CORRUPTION IN PROVINCE OF CADIZ
Investigators are looking into cases of developers purposefully building on land not designated for construction
Until now the phenomenon of illegal construction in the province of Cadiz was limited to a sprinkling of houses built by individuals, as either second homes, or, at the most, an investment for the future. Nevertheless the Cadiz Public Prosecution Department has detected the first links between organised crime and the real estate industry.
At the beginning of last week, ángel Núñez of the environmental crimes department, said that so far this year some 83 investigations into planning offences had been opened in the Cadiz area, a figure that did not include the cases being dealt with by the prosecution departments in the Campo de Gibraltar area and Jerez, indicating a significant increase on the 102 cases investigate in the entire province in 2005.
While illegal construction by individuals is a serious problem (although the majority of municipalities aim to solve this by including the buildings in question in the new development plans) the appearance of evidence of criminal organisations benefitting from the real estate boom is far more worrying. “I don’t know whether we should talk about organised crime, but we are seeing greater levels of organisation. Investigations are looking into developers who purposefully build on land not designated for construction”, said Nuñez.
Furthermore the Prosecution Department is working on cases of drug dealers who could be investing their profits in illegal construction, either as a way of money laundering or of increasing their assets.
In one operation earlier this year, which broke up a ring of drug dealers based in Conil, investigators discovered how the ringleaders were building two mansions, valued at 900,000 and 350,000 euros respectively, on land not designated for construction.
Several other investigations still open are looking into connections between municipal officials and planning offences. “We’re far from Marbella, but if we are not careful, anything could reach this area”, warned Núñez. One minor example already revealed is the case of the former municipal architect in Grazalema who was arrested recently in connection with demanding money in exchange for contracts for controversial public works. The Department has pointed out that this is not the only case of illegitimate income earned from “municipal employees conniving with business people”.
Finally Núñez explained how foreigners are often the victims of cases of fraud, when they have bought property or land “believing that it was legal”. Many of them are attracted by the lower prices advertised in the area, compared with other tourist destinations, for example the Malaga coastline.
“There are also cases of people who know exactly what they are buying but are convinced by the developer that nothing will happen”. This message seems to have stuck in the province recently. “The lack of awareness of the local people of the damage an illegal property can cause has allowed the problem to spread”, added Núñez.
10 November 2006