Spain Corruption and Marbella - You Couldn't Make It Up

Published on 10/5/2010 in Facts About Spain

If you have time free and fancy listening to a rollercoaster tale worthy of an international best seller then you really should drop down to Malaga. This week, a trial started there that is bound to fascinate Spain for the year it is estimated to last. The trial has an incredible 95 defendants – and revolves around Marbella and a demonstration of corruption in Spain that is, quite simply, breathtaking!

Marbella corruptionThe story is fantastic and takes most of our knowledge of corruption in Spain to new levels. To indicate this, let me tell you that when the corruption in Marbella unravelled, in 2006, the Spanish police seized an astonishing 2.4 billion Euros of cash and assets. This included 830,000 Euros in cash, 275 works of art, 103 horses, 14 cars, 24 historical weapons, five kilos of jewellery and a helicopter!!


The chief protagonist was a man called Antonio Roca, who was head of urban planning for Marbella. Roca, in just a few years went from being an unemployed builder to one of the richest people in Spain. At one time, he was using nine different mobile phones and owned several hotels and fincas, a ranch with thoroughbred horses and fighting bulls, a private jet, vintage cars and an art collection that included Miro paintings.

Now, you may have thought that a head of town planning anywhere in the world might excite some suspicion, if he had gone from nothing to colossol wealth. However, Roca had an answer to this, which clearly kept the authorities at bay.

Roca claimed that his money came from having won the lottery some eighty times during his lifetime!


Who could possibly have doubted him!

If you want to read the full story on this, have a look at an article I wrote (under one of my noms de plume!) entitled ‘Meltdown in Marbella – The Godfather, Mr Clean and a Facelift’. It is a wonderful tale and makes for engrossing reading…

Actually, of course, in Spain corruption is not really a source of too much amusement – if you are directly affected by it. In the case of the people in Marbella, the Roca episode was far from a laugh, when many found that their life in Spain had become a nightmare. At one stage, some 18,000 properties were blighted by potential illegality, which could have led to demolition.

I remember being rather shocked when the Marbella corruption scandal first erupted. However, that was nothing compared to hearing the response to it of very good Madrileno friend of mine. He tutted at me in that peculiarly Spanish way and said: ‘Marbella – it’s just the tip of the iceberg’.

Some ‘tip’ some ‘iceberg’ – if he is correct!

In reality, I suspect that in Spain corruption is mostly related to property and the construction industry. At least, I hope that this is the case – as it should now have subsided along with the Spanish property slump…

Written by: Nick Snelling (

About the author:

I am a journalist and author of four books (three of which are about Spain) and I live permanently in Spain with my family. Indeed, I have lived in the Valencian mountains of Spain (not far from Gandia) since 2003, although I have known Spain well since the mid 1970s.  See my website about Spanish Culture at

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Beatriz Crawford-Carse said:
Monday, October 11, 2010 @ 5:18 PM

It is with sadness I read the tales of woe that many have expressed. It is of no comfort for them to hear that other countries also have corruption. It is also understandable their anger and fustration.
My question is, what is the solution? We are in the EU surely no longer asolation for any country member, Brussels the big brother even for the UK. Should all efforts be put to denounce these atrocities in a serious maner and good intention?
Being possitive does not mean accepting how it is but wishing that whatever has gone wrong it is put right.
Put pen to paper to do good and to change things for the better not to line pockets with the misfortune of others. Good thinking as good wishing will atract the same to the person doing so and by association to others. It is the Law of Attraction.
In additon, this could also benefit others if the currupt stops being so and the country gains; this way we all gain; in the Costas the way of life is fantastic it would be nice for many to enjoy this too.
Ever Hopeful

Saturday, October 9, 2010 @ 1:28 PM

In REPLY TO the `CORRUPT British MP's I never thought EVER that I would come to their defence. All their expenses fiddles were peanuts compared with the money they actually get - about 1/4 of MEP's salaries. I never quite understood where that malaise came from. European commission has not had its books signed by it's accountants for many years - admitting it is corrupt - as it is.
However don't try and play down Spain's guilt by quoting others less fraudulant parties.
Spain Greece is not corrupt acording to Sapin and Greece- corruption IS the norm - its the way the countries work, now they are in a much more public domain and have gratefully accepted billions of Euros, its just become evident.

Steve K said:
Wednesday, October 6, 2010 @ 7:01 PM

I agree with all of you who have nothing positive to say. Simple fact is that many of us have been screwed out of many many €k in property investment & no one seems to care or do anything about it. You are told to contact spanish law society who don't even respond to you mails etc.
Mine is a slightly different slant to those reported here. In 2004 I wish I'd known what I do today. Back then I thought you paid a lawyer, like in the UK, to act on your behalf, to make you aware of the pitfalls of what you were investing in to allow you to make an informed decision!?!?! I bought off plan on the understnading that I had an investment risk of €6k on a €135k deposit. I deposited the funds to the lawyer in good faith for an off plan investment, never spoke about or saw a private contract & no notary involved. In 2007 when I exercised what I thought was my right to quit from the investment, I was informed I would lose 50% of my deposit! Who in the right minds would invest €135k if they knew there was a risk of losing 50% of it? No one I hear you shout! For me it got much worse than that, I thne found out it was 50% plus "expenses" which amazingly added upto the remaining 50% & that I am entitled to nothing!!!!!! In summary a lawyer acting 100% on behalf o the developer & 0% with regard to the client!
Anyone been in a similar position or have any advice to offer other than the obvious "you've been done"?

John Scott said:
Wednesday, October 6, 2010 @ 11:35 AM

No right minded person will feel anything but deep loathing for these corrupt greedy, grasping individuals, particularly the innocent folk, who trusted estate agents and "indepedent" lawyers, people who put their faith in Town Hall planners, and as a result, now own a blighted property, or lost their money. I have no doubt that most ordinary Spanish folk will be appalled at the scale of this scam. These greedy criminals have made a lot of potential property buyers think twice before buying in Spain, which is such a shame, because if you do things the right way, Spain still has the potential to provide a wonderful life for today's buyer. Let us hope the shameful behaviour of this criminal minority is punished appropriately, then let the rest of us get on with our lives. Does anybody think the real victims will get any financial compensation ? I watch with interest.

Robert Ellis said:
Tuesday, October 5, 2010 @ 4:41 PM

In Spain, everywhere you go, every corner you turn, every local paper you read carries the nausiating stink of corruption.
Spain now has the reputation of being the most corrupt country in Europe but it's probably further than that. Afganistan is probably better.
From the debacle in Malaga to the land grab laws in Valencia you would have to be mad to invest in Spain. I've done 200,000 euros in cold blood by listening to corrupt estate agents and buying from corrupt builders in cahoots with corrupt officials working in corruption infested town halls all rubber stamped by corrupt lawyers and there is nothing I can do about it. Complain to the authorities and they think it's funny. Lose your temper and they think you are crazy and just don't see what all the fuss is about.
I've owned property, worked here and got to know the country well enough to realize that Spain is corrupt to the core. To most Spanish people t's normal, it's expected, it's a way of life, that's how it is, corruption and tax evasion is almost a national past time.
Spain should be thrown out out of EEC until the weak and ineffective and inept politicians do something to change things. Show trials like the one in Malaga are all very well but unlikely to change anything. Go to Valencia and take a look there. Corruption? it's as bad or worse. The problems here went all the way to Brussels but have now been shelved, probably due to a bit of arm twisting by corrupt and wealthy developers. Brussels could show Spain a lesson or two when it comes to ineptitude and an inability to deal with corruption.

It's a pity because Spain is a beautiful country, it has so much potential and yet the people in power seem to want to ruin it.

If the people in power spent as much time trying to do things properly as they do planning the next scam Spain would be the best country in Europe. You will have to change the mind set of the people though.

Invest in Spain right now? Take my advice, unless you like gamblinmg for high stakes take your money elsewhere.

Carol said:
Tuesday, October 5, 2010 @ 3:56 PM

It is a good article, but not enough is said about the scandal effecting people in other areas, for example in Rafal/Almoradi, through corruption people have been left with property which doesnt have certificates and isnt completed, despite the notory confirming that money was being left by the builder Idearco with the notory until he could prove he had finnished the building, and that he had received all the certificates for the completed building. He took money from purchasers in cash at the notory when signing, to pay for utilities, but left the purchasers to pay his unpaid bills, keeping the cash himself.
The builder was given permision to build, despite the building having no entrance on the road, making it difficult to aquire habitation certificates.
The building isnt finished, we need a road some street lights and pavement, he left many problems which as owners we had to and are still paying to have put right yet the builder stills owns property there and does nothing to help.
He was handed back his money from the notory, apparently he had shown documents given to him by the previous town hall, proving that the building had certificates and was completed.

The present town hall claim to have no money to sort out the mess, it is costing the owners, most who cannot afford to, with the expence of trying to sort out the mess and the onus is being put on the owners of taking the guilty people to court, ordinary people havnt got the money for this.
The guilty parties should be made to pay by the Spanish government, they have commited the crimes yet appear to be protected, while poor people are left to suffer.
The builder and other guilty parties should have been forced to hand back the monies paid to the puchasers, instead they are allowed to transfer money to other accounts and claim they have no funds, while still trading under another name.
I would never reccomend Atlas the company who assured us nothing could go wrong, with money left with the notory and town hall as an assurance to complete the build if the builder couldnt complete himself for some reason. They said they had worked closely with the builder for years, but considering he had left previous purchasers from other buildings in the past in the same predicament, I would sugest that Atlas were aware of what was to come. They tried to get us to hand over the last stage payment and power to sign over to them after telling us lies about the builder being ill and unable to go to the notory, we found out he never attended, it was always his wife who signed.

Nick Snelling said:
Tuesday, October 5, 2010 @ 3:29 PM

Folks, there is corruption in Spain - undoubtedly. Indeed, I would suggest that, one way or another, it is endemic - although Marbella should be considered as a proveable extreme. However, I would be appalled if anyone read my article and felt that I believed that Spain was a 'joke'. It is not. It has fine qualities and can deliver a way of life that can compete with or better that of many North European countries. Corruption is rife in many countries, with the appalling behaviour of the MPs in the UK (expenses etc.) tarnishing any illusions I may have held relating to my own country. Let the first person from a country without corruption ' cast the first stone' and call the others a 'joke'.

robert said:
Tuesday, October 5, 2010 @ 3:00 PM

Spain has grown rich by tourism /property and unbelievable amounts of money just given by the EU

and the EU has not given any sanction for spain operating land grabs and the breakdown of law relating to purchasing property

Spain has been able to operate like a comic opera state i am sure will all be sorted out manana

Raj said:
Tuesday, October 5, 2010 @ 2:49 PM

Unbelievable!!! I bet this type of curreuption is mirrored all up and down the coast. How long before the Costa Blanca is in the news with the same headlines?? Spain..!! oh man, what a joke of a country.

Robert Tenison said:
Tuesday, October 5, 2010 @ 2:45 PM

This is also a topic very close to my heart - have written a factional novel Deadly Secrets ( involving urban planning corruption, money laundering, bribery and murder which Justin wrote a great review on. I also posted an article re Corruption is Drowning Spain on this website earlier this year and which has been published elsewhere. Both under a nom de plume!
Would like to touch base with you re this and your books and will contact you through your website.

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