Laundry FM: How a string of celebrities helped one of Europe’s biggest gangsters launder millions from the Costa del Sol

How a radio station, a residential development and a smattering of showbiz friends - including Bobby Davro, Kerry Katona and Simon Cowell - helped a mafia boss corrupt the Costa del Sol

LAST UPDATED: 8 Apr, 2015 @ 22:52
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SLICK: Fanchini, here with friends, organised international crime summits
SLICK: Fanchini, here with friends, organised international crime summits

LIKE a scene from Scarface, it is easy to imagine him sauntering down the stone staircases to his glistening pool, slowly taking in the panoramic views to Gibraltar and Africa while drawing on a huge cuban cigar.

A stunning home, hidden away above one of Estepona’s top golf courses, the best clue to its multi-millionaire owner are the capital ‘Fs’ which emblazon its enormous wrought-iron gates.

For this is the home of one of Europe’s biggest gangsters, Ricardo Fanchini.

Described as the ‘CEO of organised crime’ and the ‘Polish Al Capone’, it has recently emerged that he was the link between countless Russian and Eastern European mafia gangs who made their money from gun-running, drugs and prostitution.

A terrifying crime lynchpin – currently banged up in a US jail – the father-of-two lived an enviable jet set lifestyle of fast cars, gin palaces, not to mention homes in numerous countries.

But it was here, almost inevitably on the Costa del Sol, that he found one of his favourite playgrounds… and a place, where it has now emerged, he managed to launder an incredible €200 million of dirty money.

Using hapless celebrities such as Simon Cowell, Bobby Davro and Kerry Katona plus a string of media companies, Fanchini and his associates corrupted town halls, breaking myriad laws and making Andalucia the veritable Wild West of Europe.

While in jail on charges of trafficking, Fanchini’s legacy lives on in Spain, where his ex-wife still lives in his luxury seven bedroom villa, with a sweeping 200m private drive and stunning pool.

Just 30km west stands the enormous white elephant of the Majestic urbanisation, in Casares – the 115 luxury villas, in tropical gardens, built in total violation of planning laws.

Money laundering on the largest scale.

The ongoing investigation, Operation Majestic, has seen former Casares Mayor Juan Sanchez charged with corruption, as detectives continue to uncover the shady dealings that have blighted the coast for years.

But it is the minutiae behind the scene that are so shocking to unravel.

For over nearly a decade, Fanchini and his cronies were able to launder their money though a string of supposedly legitimate companies, that set up TV and radio stations and put on countless events and concerts.

It has now been revealed by Estepona court that the Majestic brand was part of a network of companies fronted by Fanchini’s Kremlyoskaya gang, led by right-hand men, Ukrainian Robert Gaspar, 55, and Armenian Robert Frank Mani, 54.

Police believe Gaspar, a French national of Ukrainian origin, is the mastermind behind the scandal. He is still the subject of an international arrest warrant, while Robert Mani was arrested at Malaga airport last year.

Their network, launched in 2004, included the now defunct Majestic TV station, as well as Sol Mijas developers and Blue Sky Television.

The pair also took over the running – and later ruining – of the now-deserted Mijas racecourse under the guise of Carrera Entertainments (see sidebar).

However, it is another company, Radio Europe Mediterraneo (REM), that is so intriguing in its aiding of the gangsters’ success… and later collapse.

Its murky history began when Gaspar was new on the coast and with money (lots of it) to spend.

GOLDEN BOYS: Boland, here with David Beckham, was paid €20,000 a month to run REM for Gaspar and Man
GOLDEN BOYS: Boland, here with David Beckham, was paid €20,000 a month to run REM for Gaspar and Man

The story starts at the plush Las Dunas hotel, in Estepona, where Gaspar and Mani are to meet Maurice Boland, the coast’s leading expat DJ, known locally as ‘Mr Marbella’, and with a string of famous interviews under his belt, including David Beckham, Ted Heath and Quincy Jones.

A svengali character, who previously ran nightclubs in Dublin and acted as the manager for teenage sensation Mandy Smith (she of underage sex with Rolling Stone Bill Wyman fame), he had forged a name for himself at the helm of the popular Onda Cero radio station.

Recalls Boland today: “He (Gaspar) immediately struck me as a likeable character, whose accent reminded me somewhat of the film character ‘Borat’.”

Chablis in hand, Gaspar went on to reveal his plans for a new lifestyle and property TV and radio station. And he wanted Maurice as the boss.

Another bottle of Burgundy and a pair of lobsters later and the popular Irishman had agreed to jump ship from Onda Cero and help set up a brand new radio station.
And so REM – the coast’s first English-language talk radio station and, as it has now emerged, a pillar of dirty money – was born.

They met the next day in Gaspar’s offices in La Colonia, in San Pedro de Alcantara, where the REM studio was built and remains today, now operated by Talk Radio Europe (TRE).
Within a couple of hours Gaspar had handed over a cashable cheque for €100,000 for an FM frequency, no questions asked – REM was effectively on air.

Minutes later eccentric Gaspar was acquiring new offices for his staff, and then flying in his own personal psychic from England to help with decision-making – on an eye-watering €10,000 a month salary.

He would soon have his own radio show too, while infamous convicted fraudster Nigel Goldman also featured regularly after winning the station’s Beat the Broker competition.

As one former REM presenter told the Olive Press: “The whole project cost an absolute fortune. They pumped around €1.2 million into the studio, and much more into the TV station.

“Maurice was rolling in it, getting paid €20,000 a month and given €30,000 to pay staff wages.”

The source added: “We all knew perfectly well it was laundering dirty money from day one.

There could be no denying it. These were gangsters through and through.”

Despite this, Boland, now an estate agent, insisted last night that he did not know this at the time. “I asked them where they had got their funds from and they said from a copper mine or something.

“I obviously got involved in something that turned out to be not nice at the end, but I really didn’t know back then.”

The company was initially registered with three directors, Boland, mystery Frenchman Thierry Carcel and Frank Mani, who also had businesses in the UK.

Boland got to work, persuading the crème de la crème of the coast’s DJ’s to join him at the new station, including Roy Silverthorne, Howard Brereton and Mary Harboe.

With one of the most advanced radio systems in Europe, the launch in May 2004 was heavily anticipated. All it needed was some media buzz and celebrity spin.

Enter Max Clifford.

gasparcliffordREM
CHUMS: Gaspar (left) with Max Clifford

The disgraced PR guru – since jailed for eight years for child sex abuse – was personally hired by Gaspar.

Clifford – a master of the dark arts and keeping his clients’ protected from bad press – was paid an alleged €30,000 a month to keep REM’s shady backing under wraps.

Shortly after putting pen to paper, the PR-paedo, who conveniently had a holiday home in Marbella, persuaded Gaspar to shell out tens of thousands to host a photoshoot for Kerry Katona, British pop-star turned reality TV stalwart.

It’s fair to say she wasn’t the obvious candidate to promote a high-end property company, particularly one in Spain.

Nonetheless, an enormous villa at Majestic, two chauffeured Mercedes, private chef, maids and more were laid on for Katona and her entourage, in return for giving Majestic some – barely noticeable – publicity in OK! Magazine.

Kerry Katona on front cover of OK magazine
Kerry Katona on front cover of OK magazine

Clifford dipped further into his bucket of go-to celebrities next, persuading Gaspar to lease an even larger villa to Simon Cowell to film his X-Factor bootcamp week.
The extravagant Gaspar once again footed the entire week’s bill for the music mogul, in return for minimal publicity.

And it wasn’t only eastern Europeans behind Majestic though, an Englishman named Richard Roberts has also been implicated.

Roberts and his wife Jane worked for Majestic, running seminars to persuade IFA’s to sell property in the urbanisation before fleeing to Las Vegas in a cloud of smoke.

“They worked out of the La Colonia back office with a guy named Peter Perfect,” said one former colleague.

There was so much money swilling around that at one Majestic Christmas party, subject to a trademark sprinkling of Clifford’s twisted stardust, comedian Bobby Davro was flown in for the night at the five-star Puente Romano hotel.

However, the future was not as bright as it seemed for the station built on black money. Mani and Gaspar could not keep throwing ludicrous sums at projects and before long it appeared to be heading in the same direction as the Mijas hippodrome.

Boland – later sacked by TRE over an alleged relationship with a 15-year-old girl – recalls the moment he knew Gaspar’s time was up in his online blog, iTalk.

He was live on air when he opened a letter from the tax authorities (Hacienda) ‘demanding €150,000 for outstanding social security payments’.

Unable to control his shock, he called in a back-up presenter and ran to meet his benefactor at a restaurant across the road.

“After, what felt like an age, he looked me straight in the eye and delivered the words I was dreading to hear. ‘I’m so sorry Maurice, It’s all over, we’re broke’.

“I felt tears welling up as I slowly stood up and walked out of the restaurant without saying a word,” he recalls.

But, bizarrely, this was not to stop his rich benefactor from persuading him to buy a €75,000 Mercedes convertible with a cashable cheque the following week, he admits in his blog.

Things were definitely not going well. The tap was being turned off and Mani and Gaspar were becoming thin on the ground, with their money-laundering network unravelling elsewhere too.

Majestic TV crashed, leaving staff owed thousands of euros, while the Mijas hippodrome, again owned and ran by Mani and Gaspar, also sunk in a cloud of mafia mystery, as reported by the Olive Press in 2009.

By 2010, the Spanish press had begun to report on the Majestic network as an investigation into the Casares development gathered momentum.

Two years later, mayor Juan Sanchez was being led through the picturesque pueblo’s streets in handcuffs, and then bailed to await trial.

The endless money circulating through the hands of Fanchini, Gaspar and Mani had clearly been enough to blind Casares Town Hall from its civil duties and the law.

So far up to 250 homes, five commercial premises, 20 cars and 165 bank accounts have been embargoed as part of the Majestic investigation.

However, as the empire crumbled, REM’s Boland found a lifeline for his ailing radio station: A man with pockets deeper than the Grand Canyon and willing to pay the station’s debts and take over.

Enter British businessman Martin Nathan, with a long term love of the coast and a son, who even acted in its infamous sitcom Eldorado.

Nathan was a wealthy man with a string of property companies in London, as well as Ashstead Estates and Falcon SA in Spain.

He agreed to buy out Gaspar and Mani’s 75% stake, according to Boland in his blog, and agreed to pay off the debts.

He became, in Boland’s words, the ‘chairman of REM’, helping to save it from certain disaster.

With a good business nous he started a new company that has continued the radio station under the more direct ‘Talk Radio Europe’, a station that has continued to thrive up to this day.

“It was all Martin’s decision, he wanted to pull away from the past,” Boland told the Olive Press over lunch at La Canada shopping centre. “I knew he was a very wealthy man and thankfully he put his arm around me. He took over from then.”

As for its change from REM to TRE in 2010 it was in the words of one former DJ of both stations ‘incredibly fluid’.

He added: “There was little fanfare. One day it was REM, the next TRE, based in the same studio, using the same equipment, frequency and mostly the same staff.”

Either way, it had conveniently severed connections to the Majestic corruption case and the Kremlyoskaya gang, and the station lives on today under the new company.

Meanwhile, the legacy of Fanchini, his employees and dirty money lives on in the form of an abandoned racecourse, an illegal residential complex and a multi-million euro corruption case that once again shames Spain.

Even more ironically – and stranger than fiction – Fanchini’s eldest daughter has been living on the Costa del Sol as recently as last year, even working for the Olive Press as a journalist, but had no input in this investigation.


 

Chairman of TRE Martin Nathan stresses that neither himself or Talk Radio Europe was part of the Majestic business empire, nor did it take over from REM FM. He was not an employee of REM. He added: “In accordance with Spanish law, when re-employing persons formerly employed by REM FM SL, all social security contributions owed in respect of such persons was verified as paid in full and the position in that regard was confirmed to Talk Radio Europe SL. We are not aware of any trade debts of REM that remained unpaid.”



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