AN exclusive development where up to a dozen British stars are owners has been linked in a new corruption scandal on the Costa del Sol.
The Valle Romano development – where leading Premiership football stars Paul Robinson, Michael Brown and David Bentley have homes – is being investigated as part of Operation Astapa, which has so far seen 26 arrests and the resignation of Estepona mayor Antonio Barrientos.
The boss of the development Luis Linares has been arrested and charged with fraud and the misappropriation of funds over the plans for the 150-hectare scheme.
He was arrested and given bail of 500,000 euros over claims that the scheme – which is endorsed by a number of UK football clubs, including West Ham and Aston Villa – was passed by Estepona town hall after a series of cash backhanders.
The development is one of 30 schemes that has come under close scrutiny since detectives started investigating the mayor and his team two years ago.
The socialist mayor resigned on Monday after being accused of bribary, corruption, money laundering and trafficking of influences.
The doctor, 47, who has been in charge of Estepona since taking over from the Gil party in 2001, is said to have overseen a huge ‘Caja B’ – black money system – where developers paid millions for construction licences among various favours.
One witness told El Pais newspaper that the mayor travelled around with a flukey, “who was in charge of handling envelopes full of cash”.
Said to be similar to Marbella’s Operation Malaya, dozens of bank accounts have been frozen and up to 50 properties seized.
Among the alleged crimes is the reclassifying of land after selling it off to contacts at below market prices.
The accused are also said to have taken bribes in return for issuing licences.
It was reported that up to 1500 cases of illegal construcion are currently pending in the town.
The operation was launched by Estepona court in secret in November 2006 and has involved a number of phone taps.
The Village at Valle Romano development claims to be one of “the most sought-after destinations for sports stars around the globe”.
It was launched last year with football stars, including Aaron Lennon, Fulham captain Michael Brown and Shay Given, as well as Nell McAndrew and Sky Sports presenters Claire Tomlinson and Jeff Stelling, who have homes in the development.
The Valle Romano scheme currently has planning permission for 1800 homes alongside a golf course and a five-star hotel.
It has been promoted by Spanish golfer Seve Ballesteros and England goalkeeper Paul Robinson, who has a football academy there. Spanish footballers Roberto Carlos and Raul have homes there, as do English footballers Shay Given and Ian Harte.
According to reports, developers behind the scheme were able to have part of the land reclassified after a series of meetings with the mayor.
There is now much speculation that the decision could be overruled. “In Marbella and other parts of Spain apparently legal projects are being declared illegal retrospectively. It could easily happen here” a local estate agent told the Olive Press.
It has long been a murky case with the golf course developers going bankrupt before finishing the course.
“Linares is a very slick, smooth operator,” one aquaintance told the Olive Press. “He spent a lot of money on the scheme to promote it. They sponsored everything and got their name out there all around the world. They were always working hand in hand with the town hall and now we know why.”