Spanish police have arrested a man they say is the ringleader of a group of diners that have made headlines after running up restaurant bills of more than €12,000 in the northern province of León and then leaving without paying.
The authorities in Léon say the 48-year-old Romanian from the town of Ponferrada was arrested as a result of an investigation launched last week when two restaurants in the remote Bierzo region were hit by what is known in Spain as a simpa.
The first incident involved 120 people at a christening who left without paying a €2,000 bill at El Carmen, in Bembibre, on February 27.
I’ve never seen anything like it Restaurant owner Juan González
A few days later it emerged that around 200 wedding guests had run up a bill of more than €10,000 at El Rincón de Pepín in Ponferrada, 20 kilometers away, also leaving without settling the bill.
The owners of the two establishments were unable to provide police with license plates of vehicles, but said that two of the leaders of the group were from Eastern Europe.
EL PAÍS tried to contact the owner of El Rincón Pepín, but the manager of the restaurant said she was out of town for the week. However, she is quoted on the home page of infobierzo.com saying, “After the banquet, there was a stampede as all the guests left the restaurant while the party was in full swing.”
Antonio Rodríguez, the owner of El Carmen, said a deposit of €900 had been paid ahead of the lunch. When he returned from the kitchen with a cake, the diners had left. “It was a matter of a minute and I couldn’t do anything to stop them because they had organized and they ran out in a stampede,” he said.
There was a stampede as all the guests left the restaurant while the party was in full swing The owner of El Rincón de Pepín
Juan González, the owner of the Novo restaurant and hotel in Ponferrada, believes he escaped a similar fate. Some months ago, he says a party of people he described as coming from Eastern Europe came to his restaurant to see if they could book it for a birthday party. Between them, they agreed that the hotel would provide the space and facilities and the hosts would provide the food and drink. “It was €400 to hire the venue,” says González. “Everything went smoothly, but when they left, we realized that they had taken some things with them.”
González was also surprised by the large numbers of people who turned up at the last minute. “At first, they said there would be around 30 guests,” he says. “But in the event there were at least 100.”
This is around the same number who did a runner at the christening in Bembibre. “What’s happening is very strange,” adds González. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
According to González, the same people returned some months later wanting to hire his restaurant again. “I didn’t want to because I didn’t trust them,” says González. “They tried three or four times and I kept giving excuses, and telling them the place was already booked.”
Finally, González agreed, but asked them to pay a deposit of €3,000 as well as sign an agreement to cover damaged or missing property. “They point blank refused and since I wouldn’t relent, they gave up and haven’t been back. Unfortunately, the Bembibre restaurant incident happened that same week. My restaurant is just a few kilometers from there.”
González thinks both the christening and the wedding incidents were premeditated. “When they came here, they arrived in very smart cars,” he says. “I remember seeing a BMW X6 and others like it in the car park.”
The authorities say the investigation continues.