CORRUPTION

Granada mayor arrested in real estate corruption probe

City planning chief also held over the construction of a nightclub and skating rink in a green area

Police during the raid on Granada City Hall on Wednesday.
Police during the raid on Granada City Hall on Wednesday.Pepe Marín

Police raided Granada City Hall as well as several homes and businesses on Wednesday as part of an investigation into real estate corruption.

City mayor José Torres Hurtado, of the Popular Party (PP), city planning commissioner Isabel Nieto and several local businesspeople have been arrested, police sources confirmed.

Officers from the Economic and Financial Crimes Unit (UDEF) of the National Police are probing the construction of a nightclub and a skating rink in a green area adjoining a large shopping mall called Serrallo Plaza.

In 2014, prosecutors filed complaints against five high-ranking officials at the Granada department of city planning

The investigation goes back to 2003, when José Torres Hurtado was first elected mayor. It is still unclear whether Hurtado and his aide will remain suspects in the case.

A Granada judge initiated the probe after receiving a complaint from the Environment and City Planning Attorney’s office. The case is under judicial seal, although police sources said they expected to conduct around a dozen searches on Wednesday.

The same sources said that, barring any unexpected developments, arrested suspects will likely be released after hearing the charges against them at their court arraignment.

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In 2014, prosecutors filed complaints against five high-ranking officials at the Granada department of city planning for alleged crimes against zoning legislation and breach of public duty.

The nightclub and skating rink were built inside an area protected as a green zone under the Andalusian city’s general zoning plan.

Prosecutors are also investigating a separate real estate project that was allegedly created with the sole purpose of favoring a specific businessman.

The case was triggered by a complaint from a local entrepreneur, Ramón Arenas, who claimed a property of his was illegally invaded to build a sports center. The construction contract was awarded by the city in 2007 to a businessman named Roberto García Arrabal.

The mayor of Granada at a ceremony with high school students.
The mayor of Granada at a ceremony with high school students.

Arenas described this move as “real estate fraud,” the news agency Europa Press reported. Prosecutors believe the case could involve zoning violations, breach of public duty, embezzlement and influence peddling, among other crimes.

The local government says that all economic transactions investigated in the case are accounted for, although investigators are seeking justification for €2.5 million worth of expenses.

The case could cost the PP the city council, which it controls thanks to support from emerging center-right group Ciudadanos, which has campaigned widely on a zero-tolerance policy toward corruption. The United Left (UI) group has already moved to hold a vote of no confidence that would allow the Socialists to take over city affairs – if Ciudadanos agrees to drop its support for the conservatives and Podemos votes in favor of the change.

The Ciudadanos spokesman in Granada, Luis Salvador, said his party had broken off relations with the PP over the case, but did not confirm whether they would support a vote of no confidence.

“We will try to favor a new reality in City Hall in a bid to clean it out,” he said.

English version by Susana Urra.

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