ON the surface, Estepona is a charming seaside town on Spain’s Costa del Sol, boasting pristine beaches, a sprawling old town and five-star dining.
It’s no surprise that A Place In The Sun star Jasmine Harman moved her family there full time last month – following in the footsteps of Cilla Black and Rod Stewart.
But in the shadows, a clandestine web of organised crime is threatening the resort’s tranquil image.
The town of 74,000 people has now been branded the coast’s new epicentre of drug trafficking, with mafia members – including British gangsters – increasingly setting up shop there.
Sources claim clan leaders are favouring Estepona, some 30km west of Marbella, due to its less-equipped local police force – which can have just one patrol looking after the whole town on any given day.
It has seen a growing number of gangland incidents of late, including a shooting at the Templo nightclub on October 5.
The victim managed to escape in a silver grey Volkswagen after a hooded man burst into the venue and shot him in the foot.
It came just weeks after a terrifying arms cache was discovered in an apartment that had been uninhabited since 2021, consisting of eight submachine guns, 12 shotguns, 15 silencers and 30 balaclavas.
Meanwhile huge bales of drugs regularly wash up on the beach, while local fishermen have decried that mafia are stealing their boats at night to carry fuel out to their so-called ‘narco launchers’.
“It is worrying but you try not to think about it,” one British expat who has just moved to the town told the Olive Press.
“On my first night here a man was stabbed really badly in Estepona port simply for trying to break up a fight. I’m not put off living here yet but I’m definitely more on guard.
“We all know the crime that runs along the coast but when it starts spilling into everyday life it gets a bit scary.”
One police source told El Pais that the town has become ‘the capital’ of drug trafficking on the Costa del Sol.
The claim is backed up by statistics from Spain’s Interior Ministry, which says crime in the picturesque resort grew by 6.5% between 2019 and 2022.
The coast is adjacent to the Strait of Gibraltar, the most important entry point for drugs coming into Europe from South America.
But in recent years, a serious crackdown by police in the Campo de Gibraltar has seen drug bosses move their operations eastwards towards Estepona.
Companies set up by mafia are buying property in the area and using them to stash drugs and weapons – while bosses are moving themselves into homes, too.
That included three British hitmen who attempted to assassinate a trio of Irish rivals in September last year.
The Brits were reportedly living in Estepona before they ambushed their targets as they fished at the Turtle Lake in nearby Marbella – although they failed to kill any of them.
All three were arrested earlier this year by the National Police force.
Incredibly, one of them, who the Olive Press can name as Harry S, was released on bail.
He would go on to allegedly kill a bouncer at TOWIE star Elliot Wright’s Olivia’s La Cala restaurant in Mijas. Despite being arrested for a second time, he was somehow released on bail before being picked up yet again for being found with a firearm in his car.
Police have not revealed if he has been locked up ahead of his trials.
More and more bales of hashish are washing up on Estepona because it has fewer tourists than Marbella – and less police presence.
The number of calls to police from the exclusive beachside resort of Guadalmina, for example, is growing rapidly.
The urbanisation is on the border of Estepona and Marbella and is filled with villas worth up to €20million – the ex-prime minister of Spain Jose Aznar has a home there, as does the son of sanctioned Russian warlord Alexey Chepa.
But residents there are growing tired of seeing their quiet beaches be used as a night-time drop off point for illegal drug shipments.
One British homeowner told the Olive Press: “It’s a disgrace, we don’t want that activity anywhere near our homes, the police need more support.”
Just this weekend, a gangland shootout rocked Guadalmina when three masked men opened fire at just after 12pm on Saturday.
Police sources have suggested the assassination attempt was sparked by a dispute between rival Belgian and Dutch cartels.
One man was shot in the leg, pelvis and arm while another was shot in the hand. They were both taken to hospital and survived.
A witness told the Olive Press: “It was terrifying and like something from a movie, I never thought I would see something like that, especially in broad daylight and among packed bars and restaurants, they could have killed a kid or anyone.”
An Estepona police officer told El Pais: “The residents are very worried and fed up.”
Another added: “We have to coordinate with the Civil Guard or the National Police almost illegally because we can barely do anything: there are very few of us.
“More than one Friday there has been only one patrol for the entire municipal area, with almost 80,000 neighbours and urbanisations everywhere,”
Marbella’s anti-drug prosecutor Carlos Tejada added that Marbella is still a hotbed for drug crime, however.
He said criminal gangs operate between Estepona and Marbella with ease.
The legal boss cited the trial of the so-called Los Suecos clan this year, which saw five members in the dock for carrying out two murders, one in Estepona and another in Marbella.
In May 2018, one of the victims, David Avila, was shot to death in his car in front of his wife and children outside the church where had just celebrated his son’s communion in San Pedro de Alcantara (Marbella).
In August the same year, another rival was shot nine times at point blank range on his doorstep in Estepona.
All five members of the clan were either imprisoned or extradited back to their home countries.
It’s no secret that the coast continues to be the destination of choice for British gangsters.
There are at least two hiding among the expat community after making the National Crime Agency’s most wanted list.
Asim Naveed and Jack Mayle are both being hunted by the so-called FBI of the UK.
Naveed is accused of helping run a €9 million cocaine empire in Cardiff, with his gang suspected of selling at least 46kg of the white powder throughout the Welsh capital.
He is of Asian descent and is between 25 and 30 years old, and sports a surgical scar on his left wrist.
According to the NCA, he left the UK in July 2020 on the Eurostar and made his way down to Malaga.
He was one of thousands of criminals to be rumbled when investigators cracked the encrypted communications platform EncroChat.
Meanwhile Mayle, who is also wanted for drug trafficking, is said to be living in Marbella.
Surrey County Police say he was supplying drugs such as MDMA, methylphenidate and diazepam.
According to the authorities, he was the leader of a drug trafficking ring in Surrey and south London known as Flavour Quest.
He is accused of selling drugs through the dark web.
Police say he is 5ft9” tall, a vegan with a gym body and multiple tattoos – the most recognisable being a diamond underneath his left eye.
He also has ‘Croydon’ tattooed on his left forearm and the words ‘money never sleeps’ on his left hand.