Ciempozuelos mayor Torrejón resigned from office after allegations of corruption



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Spanish judges investigate more
cases of corrupt local government

By Daniel González Herrera, Spain Editor

4 December 2006: According to Berlin-based Transparency International, Spain is among the more corrupt countries in the European Union. In its 2006 international survey the organisation put Spain in 23rd place. The well-known Marbella case, involving the mayor and other local government officers, is only the tip of the iceberg and at the root of it all is urban development fraud.

The desire of the general public to gain access to a decent home, in accordance with the Spanish constitution, is in reality only a dream. Spain is one of the most difficult places in Europe to buy a home, the purchase of which requires 40 per cent of a family’s income over a 20-year period.

But it is not a lack of housing that is the problem, but soaring house prices that have risen by 150 per cent in seven years, defying the laws of economics. During 2005, the number of dwellings built in Spain reached an amazing record of 800,000 homes, more than the United Kingdom, France and Germany combined for that year. It has produced levels of family debt never before seen in Spain.

It is an immense problem. The Marbella case is the one best known internationally, but by far it is not the only one. In Spain today more than 150 instances of alleged corruption are under investigation in relation to urban development, with the certainty that there are many more still unknown to the public. The latest investigations relate to the municipalities of Ciempozuelos, in Madrid and Telde, in Gran Canaria.

Ciempozuelos
Ciempozuelos is a community of some 18,000 people, situated 335 kilometres south of Madrid. It’s two recent mayors, Joaquín Tejeiro and Pedro Antonio Torrejón, were committed to prison at the beginning of November 2006 by judge Agustín Carretero. Bail was set at 900,000 euro each but the money could not be raised by the accused.

Joaquín Tejeiro was mayor between 1991 and 1995, while Pedro Antonio Torrejón resigned from office in October 2006 after allegations of corruption were made public. Both are members of the Madrid branch of Spain’s socialist party PSOE.

The two former mayors are accused of bribery and money laundering. The accusations are linked to an alleged deal between Joaquín Tejeiro and the real estate company Esprode to allow the construction of 5.600 dwellings in a zone known as Cerro de los Sotos in exchange of a ‘commission’ of 40 million euro. The Urban General Organization Plan (PGOU), which would have allowed the constructions, was passed by the city council lead by Mayor Pedro Torrejón.

The Bank of Spain became suspicious after it was informed by authorities from Andorra of irregular money transfers, with the two former mayors as central figures. According to Andorra sources, Torrejón paid some 800,000 euro into a bank account in the Principality, while Tejeiro credited some 116,000 euro. It is alleged that Tejeiro, to prove his solvency to the bank, presented a contract between him and Esprode. However, he later claimed that the document was completely false.

Pedro Torrejón also denies all the charges put against him and said that Joaquín Tejeiro had not intervened during the passing of the PGOU. He also claimed that the development company Esprode had bought the disputed land when a mayor from the centre-right People’s Party was in power.

Telde
The latest case of alleged corruption that came to light in Telde, a town of 96,000 people on the Grand Canary Island, and involves its mayor, and five city councillors. All six resigned on 10 November 2006 after allegations of their involvement in the ‘Faycán’ case, which centres around illegal commission payments during the allocation of public work projects. Judge Javier García began his investigation in the summer of 2006, after the legal representative of a Canary company had allegedly notified the Public Works Councillorship of Telde that the mayor was demanding 20 per cent of the budget of the work that was put out to tender.

Mayor Valido has maintained his innocence and said that he had resigned to prepare for his defence and to shield the town from any scandalous accusations.

Meanwhile, an associate of Maria Antonia Torres, one of the councillors implicated in the alleged payment of illegal commission, said in a newspaper interview that some of the money was diverted to the Canary PP. A judicial investigation suggests that two building contractors were pressurised in providing free building materials and labour for the building of a new party headquarter in exchange of receiving preferential treatment with obtaining municipal building permits. However, the chairman of the Canary PP, José Manuel Soria, lodged a lawsuit, challenging the associate of Torres to prove his allegations in court.

The problem and possible solutions
Why are so many city councils in Spain so closely linked to urban development fraud? The main origin of corruption lies in the assignation of land for different uses, above all in the coastal cities and in the big municipalities. The law regulating land use is much older than the Spanish constitution. It was passed during the Franco dictatorship, and it favours corrupt practices.

Because of the high cost of dwellings, many city councils pass massive urban development plans, not in the general interest, but for the benefit of corrupt development companies and politicians.

There are, of course, good mayors and councillors trying to do their jobs in the best interests of their fellow citizens. But it is clear that this cancer of fraud exists, and must be stopped as soon as possible.

Spanish Minister of Urban Development and Housing, Ms María Antonia Trujillo, has announced that the central government will formulate new land laws that will put an end to corruption, allowing citizens a more active role in the passing of municipal development plans. The new legislation will attempt to guarantee, above all, transparency and respect for the environment. For the first time there will be a statute setting out the rights and duties of citizens in relation to planning and housing.

In December 2006, Miloon Kothari, a special UN envoy on adequate housing presented a report saying that between 20 and 25 per cent of Spaniards cannot gain access to the housing market because of the country’s high house prices. He blamed land speculation and the greed of parts of the property and construction industry. Mr Kothari told reporters that the housing situation in Spain was the worst in Europe and one of the most serious in the world. However, the UN envoy supported the current centre-left government’s legislation on land reform, which is going through parliament and scheduled to be passed in 2007. Meanwhile, the Mr Kothari’s final report will be submitted to the Spanish government and to the UN Council early in 2007.


Telde on the Grand Canary Island where a judge investigates alleged corruption in City Hall


Also by
Daniel González Herrera
The Marbella scandal
The sleaze scandal, which hit the southern Spanish resort city Marbella in spring 2006, soon proved to be only the tip of a massive corruption iceberg. During the spring operation, codenamed Operation Malaya, the police arrested the city’s mayor and deputy mayor amid allegations of money laundering, property development offences, including building on land protected from development, manipulation of public tenders, the acceptance of bribes as well as schemes to alter the price of municipal services.

During a second investigation, ‘Operation Malaya 2’ new offences came to light, resulting in some 30 city councillors and business people being accused of massive corruption. These accusations were in addition to the arrests made earlier in the year. Then. 29 people were arrested, including Mayor Marisol Yagüe, her deputy, Isabel García Marcos and José Antonio Roca, who was town planning advisor. During the investigation, Judge Miguel Ángel Torres said of Mr Roca that he was the driving force in Marbella City Hall and that the Mayor performed a mere symbolic role. In September 2006, the former mayor and her deputy were released from custody on 60,000-euro bail.

Those arrested as part of ‘Malaya 2’ included the former chief of Marbella’s police Rafael del Pozo and Tomás Reñones, the city’s second deputy mayor. Mr Reñones became acting mayor after the arrest of the mayor and the first deputy mayor. However, his involvement in the scandals became clear during the following-up investigations and Judge Torres ordered his unconditional detention. Tomás Reñones was football player and captain of Atlético de Madrid, the football club owned by the late Jesús Gil, the first of the big corrupted mayors of Marbella and founder of GIL, the political party whose members included the disgraced mayor Marisol Yagüe. More