FEW long term expats in Mallorca will be surprised to have read that a witness in the Tolo Cursach trial was run off the road in July.
Nor, that one of his cronies turned up at another witness’s home, last month, telling him that the judge in the trial had been nobbled and it would not ‘end up well’ for him.
Then there were the police, a court heard, who were selling cocaine mixed with paint in his nightclubs and the politicians in his payroll regularly lavished with champagne and prostitutes to buy them off.
In short he was for decades one of Spain’s leading mafia figures.
And he got away with it thanks to owning and running the island of Mallorca, with a vast army of police, lawyers and politicians eating out of his pocket.
“Tolo acted with impunity as far as the councils were concerned,” said fellow nightclub owner Ángel Ávila. “He ended up with everything. He became overlord of the night. His cash was limitless. He threatened anyone he came up against and destroyed other people’s businesses so he could snap them up at rock-bottom prices.”
So after a crime career spanning over four decades, much of the island took a sharp intake of breath, when he was finally arrested in February this year and charged with a string of offences, including bribery, child sexual exploitation, extortion, money laundering, homicide and corruption.
Alongside cohort Bartolome Sbert, he is facing 80 years in prison and awaiting trial on the mainland, removed from the island so he cannot bribe the local prison guards.
Is it any wonder both the prosecutor and judge in the trial both asked for special permission to carry guns, throughout the duration of the case?
Yet, Tolo’s journey to the High Courts, as one of Spain’s leading gangsters, could not have begun more innocently.
We must journey back to the 1960s to the leafy suburbs of Palma city and a well established tennis club, founded in 1924.
It was here, at Mallorca Tennis Club, that a young Tolo arrived at the age of 13, helping out his uncle Miquel, who was the then head groundsman and doing well by Cursach family standards.
Like the majority of Mallorquins before tourism took off Cursach’s family was poor.
At the tennis club, where he worked as a ballboy and maintaining the courts, there was a sniff of opportunity and young Tolo knew exactly what he wanted.
‘I’ll be one of THEM one day’, he told an Olive Press source, who has known him since they were boys.
And by ‘them’ the teenager meant the island’s elite, Mallorca’s high society, that spent their weekends playing tennis at the club and poker in one of its back rooms. More of which later.
Fast forward 50 years and Cursach had become the biggest nightclub magnate in the Balearics and dubbed as ‘untouchable’, when he was finally arrested and charged on March 3 alongside Sbert.
His arrest and trial is just the latest chapter in a story of corruption that has seen a veritable cornucopia of politicians of different parties line their pockets through backhanders, rigged public works tenders, nepotism and money laundering. But his story is perhaps, its most sordid.
People who have lived on the island since the 80s have long heard the stories about Cursach. That he was a drug trafficker, that he bribed local officials, that he was a mafioso.
But the rumours were always just that, rumours. No newspaper dared to publish a word.
Tens of thousands frequented his nightclubs in Magaluf, the infamous like BCM (immodestly named after himself: Bartolome Cursach Mas) where the Spice Girls’ Geri Halliwell had first cut her teeth as a dancer (in a cage no less)…or packed like sardines into Tito’s, one of Palma’s biggest cash cows.
But that’s just it, Tito’s had a licence for 700 punters and yet it habitually hosted parties with more that 2000 – and BCM – also dubbed the ‘Bank of Cocaine Mallorca – didn’t have a licence at all, it has since emerged, and ended up getting one years later through Tolo’s ‘special relationship’ with the powers that be.
Young Tolo had always had a talent for business. He was a people person and had a great eye for who the movers and shakers were.
A passionate tennis player, he even began training to go pro, but he was also a great fan of poker and gambling in general and it was here that he saw his real future.
As a youth in the 1970s he won over some powerful allies playing poker at the Mallorca Tennis Club, as it was there – odd as it may sound – that police chiefs, bankers and other high-flyers all hung out.
It was them that bankrolled his first business venture, a small nightclub called Smash, that was no more than a shack. And it was them that helped him expand his empire by removing the competition and turning a blind eye to his business licences.
The most flagrant case of this was at BCM. Although one of the largest clubs in Europe, it had operated without a licence since 1989.
For the club to remain open, it was supposed to be soundproofed and unapproved air-conditioning units were to be moved to comply with licensing laws.
Cursach applied to amend these details after high season, but never did.
Despite this, he received his final licence approval to remain open during Calvia’s former socialist mayor Francisco Obrador’s term in office and, of course, subsequent PSOE and PP mayors did nothing until a competitor filed a complaint in 2014.
Heads rolled, but it was not that of Tolo’s, nor anyone at the town hall… it was, in fact, Calvia Police’s chief inspector Pepe Navarro who lost his job.
By now Cursach was unstoppable.
Through the 1990s he grew and grew acquiring a total of 30-plus establishments, including more of the island’s main night spots such as Riu Palace and Megapark.
But there was something little Tolo still craved; the tennis club that had been his springboard to success and what was, in his eyes, a symbol of success.
Instead he was declared ‘persona non grata’ by its members after drugs were found at BCM, causing it to close temporarily in 1992, and rumours spread about how he removed unwanted competitors.
Those rumours turned out to be true. His modus operandi, according to witness statements in Judge Manuel Penalva’s investigation included beatings, death threats and in one instance even using BCM bouncers to barricade streets with 100kg tables chained together so punters could not actually reach neighbouring businesses that Tolo did not own.
He was able to do all this by allegedly bribing politicians and police officers who also harassed competing businesses through inspections and daily raids, (one business on Tolo’s blacklist received 25 ‘inspections’ in 12 days).
Tolo generally never got his hands dirty himself though. That was what his partner Tolo Sbert was allegedly for, and fellow accused Antoni Bergas, a former Local Police inspector who left his job to join Cursach’s staff and passed on Tolo’s ‘presents’ to police.
According to various witnesses in the Cursach case, cops and politicians of all sides were allegedly at one time or another paid off with lavish parties at any number of his night spots, with direct bribes, with drugs and free booze.
In total, 28 local policemen on the island have been implicated in the case, so far.
It is alleged, that Cursach was joined by PP MP for the Baleares Jose Maria Rodriguez and regional councillor Alvaro Gijon for sordid cocaine-fuelled sex sessions including rent boys and hookers, some of whom were beaten so badly as part of the ‘fun’ that the mattresses had to be changed after the ‘session’.
Some of these sessions lasted up to two days, according to recent statements by a brothel madam in protective witnesses custody.
Pages of her diary, presented in court as evidence and seen by this paper, detailed the girls requested, what they should wear and included huge sums of up to €36,000 for just one of these ‘parties’. And while it is only Rodriguez and Gijon who have been brought to book for allegedly ‘indulging in these sessions, the diary supposedly features other names, which have not yet been released and details how payment was to be collected from ‘Tolo’, ‘at Mega’ or, of course, at a ‘tennis club’.
But, despite his amassed wealth and seemingly endless power, those he so desperately wanted to be accepted by, the members at his former tennis club, had shunned him. It was a tough blow but, undaunted, he decided to show them that no one rejected Tolo.
And so it was the ‘king of the night’ made a move towards the light, albeit still very much in the shadows. By the end of 2002 he owned a controlling share in Mallorca FC, after loaning the ailing football club’s executive president Mateo Alemany €10 million to pay its players.
As a guarantee, he kept the rights to Franco and Samuel Eto’o (later an expensive signing for FC Barcelona) and financed it all through Investfootball, an investment fund in Geneva run by his nephew Pedro Rosello, who is also now in prison for threatening a witness.
This was possibly the high point of Tolo’s ‘career’ and by the early noughties he was hobnobbing with the sports stars, government ministers and even royalty, watching Mallorca play Real Madrid in the Super Cup in August 2003 alongside former King Juan Carlos, his daughter the Infanta Cristina and her husband Inaki Urdangarin before he was sentenced for tax fraud.
Through his umbrella corporation Grupo Cursach with a staff of 1,700, serving 1.5 million customers a year, Tolo now owned clubs, bars, hotels, huge tracts of land both here (2.5% of the whole island’s developable land) and in Brazil and the Caribbean.
Closer to home he also owned the Poligono de Son Valenti industrial estate, where he would begin his next venture, the €30 million luxury sports centre Megasport, a brand he planned to roll out across Spain, although it later flopped, just like his very own airline BCM.
It was around this time that the most expensive public works tender in the island’s history, the €635 million Son Espases Hospital, was rigged by the then Baleares Government president Jaume Matas and former health minister Aina Castillo.
This was the incident that brought Tolo before people who might actually do something about him for the first time, as he was later forced to appear in court after witnesses claimed he had been given insider information about the Son Espases sale before he bought 150,000 square meters adjacent to it for €13 million, on which he hoped to build a geriatric unit.
Tolo’s efforts failed, however, after the then councillor for urban planning Javier Rodrigo de Santos blocked any building on the land.
A second refusal to Tolo’s plans would cost de Santos dearly.
After de Santos later denied Cursach’s application for an extension to his Megapark nightclub in Arenal, Tolo did some digging and discovered that de Santos was a paedophile who had spent €50,000 in gay brothels, which he’d charged to Palma Council’s expense account.
Playing the hero, Tolo gathered up the families of the abused young men and helped them take de Santos to court, where he was finally convicted of child abuse and embezzlement.
But Tolo’s days in the light would soon be over, although not without one more final farcical detail.
The catalyst that started the chain reaction that would see Tolo’s kingdom crumble was a 2012 claim that Palma’s Local Police examinations had been rigged.
As Tolo’s friends also began to believe in their own invincibility, PP politician Jose Maria Rodriguez thought he might as well mould the police force into a more amenable bunch that would serve the interests of the PP in particular, but no doubt their ‘friends’ too.
In doing so he colluded with the now ex-director general of Palma Council’s Citizen Security department, Eduard Calvo to send the questions that would come up in these examinations to two ‘likely’ candidates.
A complaint was made and Judge Penalva began what would become a rollercoaster ride into police corruption, sexual exploitation and drug trafficking that took down three of Palma’s top Municipal Police officers; Antonio Vera, Juan Mut and Antonio Morey, as well as 25 Local Police officers who had taken sexual favours and drugs to ignore inspections, the beating of prostitutes and extortion and put Tolo under a spotlight.
Not a tennis court floodlight as he might have liked, but Cursach could very well get to serve quite a lot….of time.
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