MADRID – A Spanish court convicted 53 people Friday in the country's biggest-ever corruption trial, which lasted two years and centered on widespread real estate fraud and bribery in the southern jet-set resort town of Marbella.
The defendants in the trial, which ended last year, included former town hall officials, lawyers and business representatives. The judge took several months to decide on the sentences — 40 other people were acquitted and two accused died while the case was being prepared.
Under a highly complex scheme in the mid-1990s, city funds were widely misappropriated, and public officials and business representatives divvied up under-the table kickbacks for planning permissions and construction of hotels, residential complexes and urban infrastructure. Much of the money was then laundered with the help of lawyers.
Marbella, located on Spain's southern coast, was a magnet for jet set and society figures from across the world during the 1970s and 1980s.
The man who prosecutors said was the mastermind of the fraud, former Marbella urban planning adviser Juan Antonio Roca, got the biggest sentence — 11 years — for money laundering, bribery and fraud. He also was fined 240 million euros ($326 million).
Roca has been in jail since 2006 when he was first arrested as the case broke. Back then, he was considered one of the richest people in Spain with his assets including ranches, fighting bulls, thoroughbred horses, art, expensive cars and boats.
The scheme began when late Atletico Madrid soccer club owner Jesus Gil y Gil was mayor of Marbella between 1991 and 2002. Roca began working for Marbella town hall under Gil and claimed during the trial that he was just following the mayor's orders.
Gil had dozens of corruption case pending against him, many dealing with real estate fraud in Marbella, when he died in 2004.
Other former Marbella mayors, Marisol Yague and Julian Munoz, received sentences of six and two years, respectively.
The sentences were in general considerably smaller than what prosecutors had demanded. In Roca's case, the prosecutor had asked for a 30-year sentence.