The Spanish police have arrested 16 people who illegally built 14 luxury homes in a rural area of La Línea de la Concepción, in southern Spain. Investigators suspect that the land sale served to launder money in an area that is home to dozens of drug gangs.
The residential complex, which covers over 11,000 square meters, was erected without a single building permit and in blatant violation of zoning laws.
The link between drug and tobacco smuggling and illegal construction is well known to law enforcement in the area
The homes are located in El Zabal, a neighborhood that is home to many of the drug dealers who operate in the area near the Rock of Gibraltar. At ground level, the high walls make it impossible to see the large villas and swimming pools contained within.
The properties “suggest a lifestyle that does not match the income declared by their owners or dwellers,” said a source at the National Police in Cádiz.
There has long been an aura of impunity around the drug lords of La Línea, a city hard hit by unemployment where these gangs provide jobs and benefits that have earned them people’s loyalty.
The police estimate there could be more than 30 drug gangs and 3,000 direct collaborators operating in the area. In October the leader of the Los Castañas gang, Francisco Tejón, turned himself in shortly after he was recognized in a reggaeton music video. He had been hiding out for two years inside a maze of properties in La Linea.
In September 2018, the police precinct in La Línea created a special money laundering task force to support the ongoing fight against drug trafficking in Campo de Gibraltar. A source from this unit said that the existence of the luxury villas in El Zabal “was common knowledge and people were starting to talk.”
The plot was bought in late 2017 for €28,000 and the new owners quickly divided it up into 14 individual properties, even though zoning ordinances say that this is agricultural land where no construction can take place.
Some of the suspects were already under investigation for drug-related activities, and the police believe that the money for the land acquisition came from hashish trafficking.
The suspects face zoning violation charges entailing prison terms of one to three years. But investigators admit that the whole thing will probably end with financial penalties and an order to tear down the homes, “which will be complicated.”
Whether drug money was laundered through the land sale will not come up at the trial, but police sources in La Línea said that they are following up on this line of investigation. The link between drug and tobacco smuggling and illegal construction is well known to law enforcement in the area.
Cádiz prosecutors noted in a 2017 report that the proliferation of illegal neighborhoods in La Línea, Algeciras and Sanlúcar de Barrameda “creates a situation that feeds on itself, since the more illegal buildings there are, the more the problem becomes chronic, as ghettos are established where traffickers can come and go as they please, making police work in the area extremely difficult.”
City officials in La Línea have identified around 1,000 illegal homes in the area of El Zabal, and initiated 400 violation proceedings. But the department is understaffed, and while bureaucracy drags its feet, new illegal homes keep springing up, paid for with drug money.
English version by Susana Urra.