Text in which the author defends ideas and reaches conclusions based on his / her interpretation of facts and data

Pantoja and the mob

The singer’s conviction is just the latest episode in the sleazy Marbella soap opera started by Jesús Gil

The usual crowd of people — free of sin themselves, as lynch mobs always are — showed up outside the courthouse to cast verbal stones ("Thief!" "Scumbag!") at the famous pop songstress, who had been convicted of money-laundering. Then she emerged from the courthouse in person. It was a rerun of a previous real-life show, which saw the Isabel Pantoja of yesteryear wailing and fainting histrionically at the funeral of her husband, the matador Paquirri.

I remembered the scenes of her later romance with Julián Muñoz, the then-mayor of Marbella. They flaunted their love affair in the Rocío, that yearly pilgrimage to a country shrine near Huelva, where Sevillian lounge-music starlets wear flouncy folk dresses, and wash their feet in Coca-Cola. I remember how some lucky paparazzi got a photo of Muñoz having a piss beside a decorated wagon.

You will say I've been watching too much trash TV. No - I've just been living in Spain. If you don't watch this stuff on television, you see it in the magazines at the hairdressers, or even in (relatively) serious papers, including this one. If you haven't seen all this, you've been living on a cleaner planet. Congratulations.

When Muñoz was not relieving his bladder, it turned out he was relieving Marbella's municipal coffers of vast sums. Or to be more exact, they were sums that should never have entered any municipal coffer at all, being kickbacks from construction companies, given in return for municipal permits and re-zonings in a massive building racket that, in the space of a couple of decades, destroyed miles of Mediterranean coastline. Under national environmental laws the building racket was entirely illegal — but that term is relative in Spain.

I remember seeing him on TV, soaking his belly in a Jacuzzi, amid a bevy of half-naked ladies

I remember other personalities in that soap opera: Muñoz's divorced wife, airing the dirty laundry of her husband's affair with Pantoja in a televised talk show (lucrative, no doubt); and a local builder, who had adorned the multiple toilets of his mansion with museum-class paintings. What used to be a unique microclimate, lying between the mountains and the sea a little to the east of Gibraltar, was devastated by these people, while the local crowd laughed at their jokes and voted for them in municipal elections.

As far as recent times are concerned, Marbella's political boss culture dates back to Jesús Gil y Gil — a personality many foreigners find hard to understand. The late Gil was a fat man with a gift of the gab, reminiscent of some of the wheeler-dealer characters so often seen in American movies. To sum up his career: having knowingly used defective cement in a building in Madrid, which subsequently collapsed, killing several people; having been found guilty and later spending time in prison; he then embarked on a new life as a popular public personality, soccer-club owner, and elected representative. For 11 years the people of Marbella kept this man in the mayor's office, where he decorated the walls with scenes from The Godfather.

I remember seeing him on TV, soaking his belly in a Jacuzzi, amid a bevy of half-naked ladies. You may think this is not the way for a holder of public office to appear, but half of Spain found it funny, and in Marbella a majority voted for him. When he was finally barred from holding public office, and then died in 2004, his right-hand man, the aforementioned Julián Muñoz, stepped right into his shoes as mayor. And administered his building rackets, until his arrest in 2006 in a massive police operation against municipal corruption. The songstress Isabel Pantoja was arrested too, and spent a few days in jail. Later, in court, she claimed that when paying hotel and restaurant bills with money Muñoz had given her, in the form of plastic garbage bags filled with cash, she never suspected there might be anything illegal going on.

I don't know why — but I think those people who were yelling abuse at Pantoja have the look of being Gil voters about them.

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