In what is becoming almost an every day event in Spain, the Mayor of Alcaucín, a town in La Axarquía region of rural Andalucía popular with British buyers, has been arrested for taking bribes in return for reclassifying land and granting building licences. Many of the resulting illegal properties were sold to British buyers attracted by the cheap prices.
Socialist Mayor José Manuel Martín Alba, 55, a former brickie, was arrested yesterday along with 12 others, including municipal architects, regional government planning officials, the owner of a local developer called Crocasa SL, and the owner of local estate agency Alta Axarquía. The Mayor is alleged to have accepted bribes of 500,000 Euros, and police found 160,000 Euros in cash under his mattress at home.
The police investigation into town hall corruption in Alcaucín, called ‘Operación Arcos’, started when local environmentalists complained about an explosion of illegal building on rural land in the municipality. Environmentalists estimate that 1,000 homes were illegally built around Alcaucin between 1991 and 2007, and that the municipalities of the Axarquia region have 20,000 illegal homes between them.
Locals turned out in force to show their support for the Mayor, applauding as he was lead away in handcuffs by the police. Martín is a popular Mayor who was elected with an absolute majority in the last election. In many parts of rural Spain like Alcaucín, voters tend to turn a blind eye to corruption, so long as some benefits trickle down. A recent national study revealed that a majority of local politicians implicated in corruption scandals were re-elected.
Alcaucín is a small town in the La Axarquia region of Malaga Province whose population grew by 8% to 2,469 between 2007 and 2008, and by 63% since 2000. Cheap property, beautiful countryside, nice weather, and reasonable access to Malaga airport have made it a popular choice with foreign buyers in recent years. Most of the illegally-built properties around Alcaucin are reported to have been sold to foreigners, mainly Britons. Alcaucin now has 3,000 homes compared to 2,500 residents.
Given the amount of illegal properties in the area, any buyers interested in property in Alcaucin and the La Axarquia should proceed with extra caution.