Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Lawyer held in Marbell Crime swoop

A massive swoop on the Spanish costa metropolis of Marbella has led to the arrest of 41 people this week linked to an alleged multi-million money laundering operation.

So far alleged links with some Gibraltar companies have not been the subject of any official police inquiry from Spain where the judge Miguel Angel Torres has ordered lawyer Fernando del Valle to be remanded in custody, and has released his personal secretary with charges, on a 30,000 euro bail.

Del Valle is the main defendant in the process investigating the alleged laundering of 250 million euros from criminal activities.

The interrogation started at 10:00 pm yesterday, and after several hours making his statement before the judge, was ordered to be remanded in custody. Minutes later, Del Valle, alleged ring leader of the money laundering net, left court in a police van heading for the provincial prison.

The other eight detainees who are already in prison are from Finland (2), Tunisia (1), Russia (1), France (1) and Morocco (1).

Judges and attorneys from France, Holland, Russia, Germany, UK and Canada are collaborating in the case in which Spanish, French, Moroccan, Russian, Ukrainian, and Finnish citizens have been charged with laundering 250 million euros.

Meanwhile, the Russian oil company Yukos, has denied any involvement in the case.

Police, identifying links between the firm and organised crime, arrested 41 people from six countries in connection with the affair on Friday following a 10-month investigation nicknamed “Ballena Blanca” ("Operation White Whale"), which relied heavily on close cooperation from police around Europe.

Among those arrested in the swoop, involving Interpol and Europol, were people from France, Finland, Morocco, Russia, Spain and Ukraine, among them several lawyers and three notaries, according to Spain’s Interior Ministry.

Police consider Del Valle the architect of the racket on Spain’s southern Costa del Sol worth some 250 million euros (337 million dollars).

According to El Pais, the group could have laundered some 600 million euros, without specifying how it had obtained the figure.

A number of bank accounts were frozen and two private planes, a boat and 42 luxury cars were impounded during the police operation.

The mayor of Marbella, Marisol Yague, lamented that the controversy was giving a bad image to the city, situated in the heart of what for decades has been dubbed the “Costa del Crime” for its reputation of attracting insalubrious figures on the run from justice in their countries.

“This is a highly unfortunate affair for the people of Marbella. It gives the city such a negative image,” Yague told Spanish radio, having earlier told reporters that “people only talk about the city to have a go at it over something negative.”


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