The web of property deals that let a retired drug dealer launder a fortune

Authorities uncover complex ring of fronts set up to regularize cash haul

Vilagarcía de Arousa -
Police officers on a drug bust in the Canary Islands earlier this month that netted a "top Venezuelan kingpin."
Police officers on a drug bust in the Canary Islands earlier this month that netted a "top Venezuelan kingpin."ÁNGEL MEDINA (EFE)

When the tax authorities launched an investigation recently into money laundering activities by drug traffickers based in Galicia they noticed that although Antonio Carballa Magdalena was no longer directly involved in the trade - his activities date back to the 1980s and he served a total of 20 years in jail - his assets and lifestyle far outmatched the income he reported in his annual tax returns.

Based in the picturesque seaside town of Sanxenxo in Pontevedra province, the 57-year-old began his career in crime by smuggling tobacco back in the 1980s, and then moved on to bring in huge quantities of cocaine in the early 1990s, activities that netted him a fortune. After being released from jail a decade ago, Carballa has since spent his time trying to launder his money by buying and selling properties, using family members as a front.

All this was well known to the tax authorities, but what surprised them when they searched his home was that part of up to 3.9 million euros had been laundered through a complex network of locally based companies that he had lent money to over the years.

Documents seized by the authorities show that from the end of 2008 and over the course of 2009, Carballa lent a total of 2,467,561 euros to several companies, all of it earned from drug trafficking.

The 57-year-old began his career in crime by smuggling tobacco in the 1980s

Among the names that figure in the accounts kept by Carballa is Croil S.L. and Croil Petróleo, companies that were lent 265,000 and 196,000 euros respectively. The money was lent in cash. Both companies are majority owned by an outfit called Pradoinver Iniciativas, which belongs to the Prado Padín family, two of whose members, Jonatan and Diego Prado Padín, have been arraigned.

Carballa had set up a scheme to get his laundered money back using another company. In February 2009, Sanxenxo Urbanizaciones, set up by Carballa in his daughter and wife's name, bought stakes in Croil and Croil Petróleo from the Prado family for 53,700 euros, paid in cash. Less than eight months later, the shares were sold back for an impressive 490,000 euros, along with a further 29,000 euros in interest on the loan. Carballa began laundering his money through property deals back in 1994, when he bought several plots of land in Sanxenxo for 180,303 euros. Ten years later he sold them to his wife, paying 12,621 euros in tax.

In 2006, Carballa's wife swapped the land for seven properties owned by two companies called Promociones Portonovo and Construcciones Bamarti in a deal registered with the tax authorities as being worth 720,000 euros.

In 2000, María Luisa González sold a property she had bought in the nearby town of Poio for 78,000. She then used the money to set up an investment fund that was later reimbursed to her bank account and that of two of her children. A year later, she bought a piece of land in Sanxenxo and 18 shares in a property company called Antoncar for 5,409 euros.

Carballa was kidnapped after four tons of cocaine was thrown overboard

Between 2008 and 2009, Carballa bought four other plots of land in Sanxenxo for 67,500 euros, as well as several luxury cars and a Yamaha motorcycle. He also bought his daughter Beatriz a mooring in the upmarket Combarro marina for 26,581 euros.

His daughter and her husband, who have also been arraigned, bought a plot of land that was to be developed in Toledo province for 149,051 euros.

Antonio Carballa was never one of the major players among Spain's drug traffickers, and was incarcerated on two occasions. In 1993, the police linked him to a Panama-registered vessel called Islander that brought cocaine into Galicia from Brazil and Venezuela via West Africa, and then distributed it across central Europe. A year later, the vessel was intercepted in the mid-Atlantic, but the estimated four tons of cocaine the authorities estimated it was carrying were thrown overboard.

The Colombians who owned the cocaine then kidnapped Carballa, demanding a million euros for the lost merchandise. It is not known whether he paid the ransom, but soon after he was preparing another shipment of cocaine.

Carballa then bought a Panama-registered vessel, Archangelos, which in January 1995 was boarded by the authorities while it was still in the Caribbean, during a tropical storm. The crew attempted to prevent officers from seizing the vessel, but were eventually overcome, and 2.7 tons of cocaine was found. Some 21 people were arrested, among them three women, including Carballa's wife.

Along with his wife and daughter, as well as five other people, Carballa is accused of money laundering and other financial crimes, and is due to appear in court in the provincial court of Pontevedra on April 11. Carballa and his accomplices all face prison terms of up to six years, and fines of more than 20 million euros.

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