As the investigation into town planning corruption comes to an end, the Olive Press untangles the web of corruption woven by Juan Antonio Roca
IT was St Valentine’s Day, 2006 and Juan Antonio Roca – the then chief of urban planning at Marbella’s town council – was speaking on his mobile telephone to businessman Manuel González Sánchez-Dalp.
“The difference between you and me is that all of your properties are in your name while all of mine are in different names,” he said, unaware the conversation was being recorded by police investigating wide scale corruption in the Costa del Sol resort.
Five days later, the sentence would end up on the first of the 230-page report into the illicit activities of Roca.
This document was then sent to Miguel Ángel Torres, the youthful judge in charge of Malaya – an investigation into claims housing developers were paying Roca vast amounts of money to gain favourable council decisions.
On March 29, 2006, Roca – of whom Torres described as “the man who controls and makes all council decisions” – was arrested and detained on charges of embezzlement, bribery and money laundering.
His arrest was the first of 102, with former Marbella mayors, councillors, lawyers, businessmen, singers and even an ex-professional footballer implicated.
The report, which has been dubbed “the Bible” by police, is crucial in understanding the extent of corruption in the town, dissecting piece by piece the complex framework used by Roca to launder illegal money.
Through various companies and assets, the man considered the centre of the web of corruption laundered more than 100 million euros, Torres believes.
“Roca used 18 false and illicit companies so that his vast fortune could not be detected,” the magistrate said.
His claims are backed by police who compiled the report. “There is a total inexistence of legitimacy in the various companies set up by Roca between 1991 and 2006,” it states.
A key protagonist in this web of corruption is Manuel Sánchez Zubizarreta, the Madrid lawyer in charge of forming and managing these companies.
According to police, he was the influential figure in helping not only Roca to launder his money but also in aiding “in the operations of important housing developers in Marbella.”
The report then goes on to name these “important” developers: José Avila Rojas, Tomas Olivo, Javier Arteche, Fidel San Román, Carlos Sánchez – all suspected by Torres of having paid Roca thousands of euros in exchange for building licences.
During a raid on the lawyer’s offices on April 4 last year, police confiscated almost one million euros in cash.
The investigating magistrate also names Montserrat Corulla – who was arrested on charges of money laundering – as the figurehead behind Roca’s Madrid operations, such as the conversion of the former palaces Saldaña, Tepa and Villagonzalo into luxury hotels.
Another person implicated in the report is Óscar Benavente. His name is on the ownership deeds of some of Roca’s most treasured properties, such as the Marqués de Velilla horse ranch and the Caridad finca in Marbella. He is currently behind bars after being charged with tax fraud and laundering.
Also implicated is Salvador Gardoqui, “cohort of Roca since the beginning of his activities.” Through Gardoqui’s office passed, according to the investigation, “all the housing developers who wanted to do something in Marbella.”
Juan Germán Hoffman is believed to have coordinated all of Roca’s foreign interests, with bank accounts located so far in the tax havens of Switzerland, Gibraltar, Liechtenstein, Singapore and the Isle of Man.
Roca denies having any offshore bank accounts but Swiss authorities claim the former councillor has at least eight accounts in that country. They have also told the Spanish investigation team there were movements in these accounts between April 2006 and February this year – while Roca was behind bars.
From dole queue to millionaire
Torres claims Roca, who faces at least nine years in prison, has assets worth around 120 million euros. These include “enormous” fincas in Cádiz, Murcia and San Pedro Alcántara, hotels like two-million-euro La Malvasía in Huleva and the aforementioned three luxury hotels in the capital, worth a combined 50 million euros.
Then there is the ranch, which contains 100 thoroughbred horses and prized bulls, the housing developments Nueva Ribera Beach and Nueva Ribera Golf in Murcia, a heliport, a private jet and a collection of art, worth 30 million euros.
Agents, who started their investigations into suspected money laundering and corruption in November 2005, claim “Roca’s vast fortune is due to his role as chief of town planning at the Marbella town hall.”
In a chapter headed Inexistence of Licit Businesses, the police analyse the high standard of living of the Roca family.
In the four months of recorded telephone conversations involving the former chief of town planning, police discovered the family “went on numerous holidays.” Roca’s wife, María Rosa Jimeno – named as the secretary of Marbella Inversiones and administrator of Marji Inmuebles, two companies through which money was laundered – travelled to Paris to visit friends and go shopping. Before this, she had been to the Alpine ski resort of Courchevel in France with her two children Antonio and María, who are both implicated in Malaya.
This is despite in 1991, Roca being officially unemployed, claiming state benefits.
“A year later, he became involved with the Marbella town hall and its then mayor, Jesus Gil. His spectacular and inexplicable fortune then started to grow,” the report states.
Roca soon gained “absolute power” in the town and turned councillors into his “employees and subordinates.”