007 - A license to evade justice?

Sean Connery is refusing to answer calls to testify in Marbella's Goldfinger property case

Sean Connery as James Bond in Goldfinger, with Shirley Eaton.
Sean Connery as James Bond in Goldfinger, with Shirley Eaton.

Three months ago, reporters from the Daily Mail spotted Sir Sean Connery going for a walk in New York. He was wearing informal dress and looking relaxed; his style was elegant as always, though his almost 83 years are beginning to show. Sightings of the legendary James Bond star have been few and far between ever since Connery confirmed he was bowing out of show business in mid-2010, after a lifetime as an actor. He now lives with his wife Micheline in the Bahamas, where the couple settled in the mid-1990s after leaving the Spanish resort of Marbella and its untrammeled development.

But he left an unresolved matter behind in the Costa del Sol. A Marbella judge has been trying unsuccessfully for the last three years to get Connery and his wife to testify in a criminal case concerning the sale of their mansion there. There are already 17 suspects involved in the shady transaction, including former city mayor Julián Muñoz, now in jail over several corruption scandals. In mid-May, the investigating judge issued a writ documenting all the failed attempts at contacting the couple and establishing a six-month deadline for them to get in touch. If the letter rogatory to the Bahamas has no effect, he warned, he will consider issuing international warrants against both.

Ever since Connery's possible involvement in the case was uncovered in May 2010, he has made few public appearances. In June of that year he received a tribute at the Edinburgh Film Festival, and did not reappear again until May 2012, when he rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange, which was celebrating its 220th anniversary. That September he made a surprise showing during a post-match press conference by Andy Murray after the Scottish tennis player reached the final of the US Open.

Known locally as the Goldfinger case, the scandal involves Casa Malibú, a luxury beachfront home between Marbella's Golden Mile and Puerto Banús. The house had previously belonged to Edgar Neville, a Spanish playwright and filmmaker who lived in Hollywood in the 1930s.

If Connery fails to respond, the judge may issue an international arrest warrant

Connery and his wife discovered Marbella during its golden period, in the 1970s, when high society flew across the globe to meet at the exclusive Marbella Club. There was good weather, the sea and beautiful landscapes. Sean Connery frequently met with friends who also had homes there, such as Lord Adrian Foley, and he liked to play golf in the company of Lew Hoad, a former Wimbledon champion who owned a tennis club on the coast.

But the idyll ended when Jesús Gil became mayor and ushered in a period of real estate development based on widespread corruption that ultimately resulted in the arrest of virtually the entire local government team in 2006. A source who knew the actor personally remembers how "enormously" angry he was at the fact that Gil used a video in which Connery hailed the virtues of Marbella for his own partisan interests. The couple put their home up for sale in the late 1990s, and that is when the legal trouble started.

The case began in 2007 following an investigation into irregularities in documents authorizing the construction of 72 apartments on two plots where only five houses had been initially slated to go up. The first agreement was signed in January 2000 between the city and Malibú, SA, the company that owned Connery's house; there were two other agreements between Marbella and By The Sea, the firm in charge of selling the dwellings. All three agreements were signed by then-mayor Julián Muñoz under the eye of the same law firm that conducted the Connerys' affairs in Marbella, and the negotiations resulted in losses of 2.77 million euros for the city's coffers. In other words, both firms, in connivance with the city of Marbella, allegedly obtained development conditions tailor-made to suit their economic needs.

The investigation followed a trail of companies allegedly used to channel profits from the sale of the apartments to accounts in foreign banks. The judge is awaiting information from Uruguay regarding the possibility of money laundering, and he believes there are indications that Connery and his wife participated in this network of companies, even if it is clear that "control" was held by the two lawyers in the firm. This is the reason why the judge wants to hear what the couple has to say, to see what their degree of involvement was and whether they were aware of these goings-on.

The James Bond actor has made few public appearances since being linked to the case

But since then there has been nothing but "obstacles." The law firm under investigation failed to send the couple the subpoena, and simply gave the judge their new address in the Bahamas. In September 2010, the British ambassador in Spain, Giles Paxman, offered further details regarding their place of residence and also conveyed the actor's desire to learn what the investigation was about. However, the ambassador refused to relay the court order.

A month later, the court received a fax from a Los Angeles law firm with a letter in which Connery offered to cooperate and testify as long as he received the court order through an official conduit. He even suggested a video conference. That is when the court opted for a letter rogatory to the Bahamas. The first one was sent in March 2011, and there were two reminders in March and May of this year. So far, there has been no news. If there are no further developments, in November the judge will have to decide whether he issues international warrants against the couple.

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