Gangsters’ paradise: A look at the key figures past and present of the Costa del Crime

Dubbed the Costa del Crime, southern Spain has long harboured some of Europe’s most dangerous gangsters. Rob Horgan and Tom Powell take a look at the most notorious from the past and present

LAST UPDATED: 18 Oct, 2015 @ 20:21

The body of Gerard ‘The Hatchet’ Kavanagh after he he was shot in Marbella last year

TRAFFICKING drugs, robbing millions and pulling rivals’ teeth out with pliers can become tiresome after a while, even for the most hard-bitten of gangsters. 

So it makes sense that Europe’s biggest criminal firms of the last 50 years have pitched up on the Costa del Sol and Gibraltar to enjoy the fruits of their ill-gotten gains.

Some, the clever ones, realised they could make as much, even more, by getting involved in prostitution, drugs and people-smuggling.

After all, Andalucia is one of the key entry points for not just immigrants, but cocaine, heroin and, of course, marijuana grown just across the pond.

No surprise then that the coast has been a notorious playground for the most depraved criminal masterminds and nefarious gangland enforcers for decades.

But with the demise of ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser, the Mijas mobster and John ‘Goldfinger’ Palmer of Brink’s-MAT infamy, some would think the hey-day of the Costa del Crime might be over.

However there are certain ‘businessmen’ from Ireland, Eastern Europe and elsewhere who would suggest they think again…

The fearsome Kinahan clan

CONNECTED to drugs and money laundering on a global scale and linked to a string of brutal murders, the Kinahan clan could have stepped straight out of a Martin Scorsese movie. 

But this is real life and the notorious crime organisation is active here, on the Costa del Sol.

The Irish-run gangster clan has established itself as a modern day Mafiosa, running riot along the Spanish coast since landing in 2003.

Worth an estimated €500 million, the gang’s leader Christy ‘the Dapper Don’ Kinahan is considered Ireland’s wealthiest criminal in history.

The clan however, was dealt a heavy blow in 2010, when a covert Spanish-Irish police operation put 34 of his gang behind bars – 22 in Spain, including the Dapper Don himself and his right-hand man, John Cunningham.

Codenamed Operation Shovel, 20 vehicles, over €1 million in cash and several firearms were seized.

But a string of brutal murders over the past 18 months suggest the gang is back in action.

Out of jail since April 2013, Christy has wasted no time reestablishing himself at the helm of the organisation and allegedly settling scores with foot soldiers who fell out of line during his time behind bars.

Shot three times by a balaclava-wearing hitman at his Mijas swimming pool, Gary Hutch’s execution last month is being reported in Ireland as a show of strength by the clan.

Coming after the killings of major drug players, Gerard ‘the Hatchett’ Kavanagh and brother Paul, Irish and Spanish authorities fear more murders will follow.

Mown down in broad daylight at a bar in Marbella, leaving bullets sprayed across a public square, the ‘Hatchett’, like Hutch, met his end after allegedly stealing over €100,000 from the drugs lord.

It was third time unlucky for Hutch who survived two previous hits – one leaving former British boxing champion Jamie Moore fighting for his life after he was shot outside the Kinahan’s €10 million Estepona pad in a case of mistaken identity. (Big boxing fans themselves, the Kinahans are regularly seen ringside, cheering on Marbella-based fighter Matthew Macklin.)

Now the next disloyal member is alleged to be in the clan’s sights – Dublin-based ‘Fat Freddie’ Thompson.

WARRING: Christy Kinahan and (right) Fat Freddie Thompson
WARRING: Christy Kinahan and (right) Fat Freddie Thompson

A former partner of Hutch and the Hatchett, the trio set up operations in Spain in 2009 but a hit on all three in Puerto Banus saw partner Paddy Doyle killed, leaving the others little choice but to team up with the Kinahans.

It was in fact that hit which put Operation Shovel in motion.

Like his former associates, Fat Freddie is allegedly suspected of dipping his hands in the kitty, leading to fears that a gangland war is ‘in danger of exploding’ on the Costa del Sol, with Kinahan ‘heavies’ Dublin-bound to meet with key enforcer Paul Rice.

Rice himself fell out of favour with the Kinahans last year but appears to have mended relations. But it is not just internal affairs that could bubble over. The Kinahans are also out to get a number of rival gangs, it is reported.

A long-running turf war with the notorious London and Spain-based Adams family could reach boiling point as the long arm of the law finally comes down on leaders Terry and Patsy Adams.

While Terry – reportedly worth tens of millions of euros – has been pinned on ill-gotten gains, Patsy’s €4 million villa in Mallorca was stormed by police in June and the crimelord was picked up in Holland in August on an attempted murder charge.

The clan may also turn their attentions to the Dundons trampled empire in Ireland – reportedly teaming up with Limerick-based traveller gangs as well as the Keane family to take what’s up for grabs.

There is no doubt the Kinahan clan will continue to flex its muscles over the next 12 months. Where and how remains to be seen.

The Polish Al Capone

DUBBED the Godfather of European organised crime, Ricardo Fanchini is the slick-haired crook behind a multitude of trafficking and money-laundering operations.

He founded his empire on fencing bootleg vodka throughout Europe, before moving onto the more sinister stuff – drugs and firearms. More recently, he organised ‘crime summits’ consisting of Europe’s most important mafia figures.

SLICK: Fanchini, here with friends, organised international crime summits
SLICK: Fanchini, here with friends, organised international crime summits

Described as the ‘CEO of European organised crime’ by the BBC, it hardly comes as a surprise that there is a palatial villa, hidden up a long, winding driveway in the hills above Marbella, with two ornate ‘F’s decorating the iron gates; welcome to Casa Fanchini.

But the man described as the Polish Al Capone hasn’t been able to relax by his pool and enjoy the views out to Africa in some five years. He is currently languishing behind bars in an American prison, sentenced to 10 years in 2010 after agreeing a plea bargain.

Fanchini admitted a single charge – conspiring to distribute 424 kilos of ecstasy.

His main link to the Costa del Sol currently comes in the shape of the Majestic urbanisation in Casares, the illegally-built complex which has seen former mayor Juan Sanchez facing 18 years imprisonment for his illicit agreements.

Where Fanchini is involved, two other names are rarely out of the picture: Frank Mani, 55, and Robert Gaspar, 54, who together led the Polish criminal’s Kremlyovskaya gang.

Police believe Gaspar, a French national of Ukrainian origin, is the mastermind behind the Majestic scandal. He is still the subject of an international arrest warrant, while Robert Mani, an Armenian, 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 subsequent ruining – of the now-deserted Mijas racecourse, under the guise of Carrera Entertainments.

Gaspar even launched REM radio station with Costa celebrity Maurice Boland at the helm, into which he pumped hundreds of thousands of euros.

It’s fair to say they have left quite a legacy, and not a proud one, in this part of the world.

Looking back on Golden Oldies…

THE crooks behind the the record Brink’s-MAT gold bullion robbery were no strangers to Spain’s shores.

John Palmer1
John Palmer was killed this year

Both John ‘Goldfinger’ Palmer and two-time convicted killer Kenneth Noye owned property in Spain, probably quite a lot of it.

Palmer – who spent most of his time in Tenerife – was murdered by Spanish hitmen earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Olive Press sources claim Noye could be set for a return to his Costa de la Luz property when he is released from UK prison in the next year.

Hiding out near Zahara de los Atunes for four years before he was caught, Noye allegedly flew in and out of Gibraltar numerous times while police searched for him.

Runaway train robbers

TWO key figures in Britain’s most iconic heist – the Great Train Robbery – hid out on the Costa del Sol to avoid the heat.

Charlie Wilson – also involved in the Brink’s-MAT robbery – owned property on the coast but came to his end in 1990 when a hitman riding a bicycle took him out in Marbella.

His former partner in crime, Gordon Goody, moved to southern Spain after his release from UK prison in 1975 and still resides in Almeria today.

And while his criminal associates – Ronnie Biggs and Bruce Reynolds (to name just two) – became cult figures in the UK, Goody escaped to Spain to run beach bar Chiringuito Kon Tiki in Mojacar.

Mad mobster of Mijas

THERE are few names more synonymous with London gangland brutality than ‘Mad Frankie Fraser’.

The notorious enforcer spent 42 of his 90 years in prison but still found time to build a reputation for carrying out horrific attacks on his rivals – with razors and pliers.

He worked for the Krays – the rulers of London in the 1960s, as well as the Richardsons, a similar force to be reckoned with.

Fraser, who died last year, was certified insane three times.

He was certainly crazy about the Costa del Sol, having owned a villa in La Cala de Mijas where he enjoyed regular sun-drenched holidays. His son is said to still live in the area.

Gangster King of the Costa del crooks

OF all the villains who fled to the so-called Costa del Crime in the 1980s, Ronnie Knight was arguably the most colourful.

This was largely due to his marriage to Eastenders star Barbara Windsor, who even gave evidence in his defence in court.

Knight spent 11 years hiding out on the Costa del Sol during the hey-day of cockney gangsters, where he became known as the king of the lot.

He even married his third wife, Sue Haylock, in Fuengirola in 1987. Unable to resist taking a cheeky shot at the law, their wedding cake was in the shape of a prison.

But Knight’s Spanish dream came crashing down when he was jailed for seven years in 1994 for his role in a multi-million pound armed robbery in London.

Nowadays the 77-year-old lives in a rented flat in Cambridge on a £130 a week pension.

Brown Bread Fred

FREDERICK Foreman enjoyed the good life in Spain for more than a decade before returning to the cold reality of a UK jail sentence, just like his coworker Ronnie Knight.

The Krays’ former henchman, Brown Bread Fred was part of the 1980s Marbella scene which led to the Costa del Crime nickname.

But time catches up with everyone eventually, and Fred was convicted of the disposal of Jack ‘the Hat’ McVitie’s body after he was killed by Reggie Kray.

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  1. With all the genuine hard working people trying hard to start new businesses or keep existing businesses up and running, the last thing we need is a nothing story, recapping all the bad incidents and glamorizing the so called ‘dons’ of crime families.