Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Ronda exMayor and three Councillors charged in corruption cases

Antonio María Marín Lara (l.), arrested
(Photo: El País / Julián Rojas)
RONDA (Agencies) It took the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's officials and a host of National Policemen nine hours to search the Town Hall and Town Planning offices of Ronda Council in an operation that ended with the arrest of seven people and confiscation of what one paper calls 'abundant documentation'. Chief among the detainees is Antonio María Marín Lara, former Mayor of Ronda and present PSOE Councillor. Another three are are implicated in an alleged network of corruption that operated among the previous corporation of the Málaga town. Among the charges against them are those of perversion of the course of justice, bribery, peddling of political influence, embezzlement, forging documents and money laundering. The PSOE was in power from September 2004 until the last local elections of May 22. Among those detained are also a local lawyer and two directors of the Eroski supermarket chain. The operation, dubbed Acinipo after an archaeological site in the area,>>>

began when planning irregularities were spotted some time ago, particularly two projects that are well over ten years old: a shopping centre that meant the investment of over €102 million, and Los Merinos Norte urbanization that got planning permission for 800 luxury villas, golf courses, riding centres and hotels, plus a number of other licenses and permits issued by the Town Hall during the PSOE period.

Operation Aciripo got truly under way when the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor (Fiscalía Anticorrupción) received a denuncia from an individual who provided information. Money and town planning are intermingled in these cases (e.g. the Malaya case in Marbella).

Aside from monies paid by businesses, more often developers, to obtain favourable resolutions for permits, licenses and the like, also being investigated is the source of money that was going to be invested in the town, which is suspected of coming from drug trafficking or prostitution.

One of the ways in which bribery is alleged to have occurred is by contracting advertising in a local publication, linked to the former mayor. Sources close to the investigation say that the fees charged for this were "completely disproportionate".
The present Mayor, Mari Paz Fernández (PP), has insisted that there was nothing to find in the Town Hall because when she took office "there wasn't even a computer," adding that, because the accused were now in opposition, they did not have the right to a desk  in the Ayuntamiento.

As well as the former mayor, also charged are Councillors Francisco Cañestro, Secretary General of the PSOE in Ronda, provincial Deputy and former vice-Mayor; María José Martín de Haro, Works and Planning delegate; and Rafel Lara, cousin of the ex-mayor and in charge of Contracts and Citizen Safety. All four have had their PSOE membership suspended as a 'cautionary measure' by the party's bosses in Andalucía.

The two Eroski directors were arrested in Valencia and Madrid, and a search was carried out at the offices of the supermarket chain in Elorrio, Basque Country. Agents of the anti-money laundering unit of the Cosat del Sol, also searched several homes and offices in Ronda and Marbella, as well as the PSOE offices in Ronda.

Ronda Council had scheduled a meeting to approve the commercial use of land on which a large shopping complex was to be built, but sources say that the meeting will probably be called off because "it is probable" that those under arrest will be absent.

While he was in power, Marín Lara approved the fourth change to the town's General Ordination Plan (PGOU), which authorized the building of a shopping mall where the feria used to be held and a football ground. There were also numerous individual 'blind-eye' situations that raised suspicions among residents. This was often applied to land and buildings within the municipality but outside the town itself.

As happened with the Malaya case in Marbella, the largest corruption case in Spain thus far, in Ronda's case a University investigative report was published that alerted of the apparently enormous influence obtained by the promoters and developers of the urbanizations and shopping complexes involved.

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