Spanish planning crackdown threatens Irish investors

IN a move that could affect hundreds of Irish overseas investors, local authorities along the Costa del Sol in Spain want to demolish thousands of properties built in contravention of property laws.

The government of Andalucia is determined that unfettered development along the Costa has to stop. The area has been massively overdeveloped in the past two decades with apartment blocks constructed with little regard for local planning laws.

Now the Andalucian authorities want to demolish about 15% of these illegal developments. That amounts to almost 5,000 properties, many of them owned by Irish investors in holiday apartments.

The local government is also determined to crack down on serious criminal activity along the Costa del Sol, an area long regarded as a safe haven for mafia-style gangs and drug smugglers.

Two months ago the Costa del Sol saw the climax of Operation White Whale, Spain’s largest money-laundering bust to date, with the arrest of Chilean-born lawyer Fernando del Valle, said to have amassed a fortune by reinvesting the profits of cross-border smugglers operating between Spain and Gibraltar. Simultaneous police raids seized a yacht, two private aircraft and more than 40 luxury cars. It won’t be the last such exercise.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Attorney General Candido Conde-Pumpido.

Lawyers from the Marbella-based Del Valle Abogados firm are at the centre of the inquiry into an estimated €600 million fraud that has seen 251 properties, including two entire housing developments, confiscated in a series of police raids on the Costa del Sol. The Del Valle office has reopened although Mr del Valle is still in jail, pending trial.

According to Ignacio Morillas of British-based Nockolds Solicitors, Irish investors could be particularly vulnerable. “The main focus of the money laundering investigation centres on two developers in Cadiz and another in Malaga. These are areas favoured by many Irish people looking for homes in the sun.

“Any Irish investor who has put a deposit on a property belonging to any of those developers could have that money frozen for a very long time. They would have to litigate to show that they are not involved and that could take years.”

Fernando del Valle was arrested on March 10. Prosecutors allege the firm has been helping foreign drug dealers launder money through property development in the south of Spain.

In April, the Irish Examiner revealed the full extent of del Valle’s dealings, including how he swindled thousands of investors out of their money, including many Irish property buyers. One of the those most affected was novelist Marisa Mackle who bought a property off plans with her sister, Naomi.

The Mackle sisters became interested in buying a holiday apartment in Spain after attending an overseas property exhibition in the RDS in Dublin.

When Marisa first saw the site of her dream home in Spain she could hardly believe her eyes.

“It was beautiful,” she recalls. “Just breathtaking and it was right on the golf course and by the sea.”

Four years on, and countless visits back there from her home in Dublin, the view is still the best part of the Sea Golf Hotel apartments in Alcaidese.

“Loads of Irish people put down deposits for that place and the apartments were supposed to be ready in 18 months. They still are not ready, yet they have £32,000 (€46,000) of my money.”

Last night RTÉ’s Prime Time programme again highlighted the plight of Irish people stung by investing in the Spanish property market.

Many of them have displayed extraordinary naiveté, putting down deposits with unscrupulous estate agents and lawyers without even checking local planning regulations.

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