BBC investigation into squatter extortion threat in Spain

A BBC investigation into squatting in Spain shows how criminals take advantage of laws that protect squatters to extort ransom money out of second-home owners whilst the politicians in charge deny any link between the two.

The investigation led to an article at the BBC website in the ‘stories’ section titled ‘The hard men removing squatters in Spain,’ and a half-hour radio programme broadcast by Radio 4 in the ‘Crossing Continents’ series. You will find links to both the article and the radio programme below.

“Squatting has a long history in Spain, often fuelled by high rates of homelessness. But there is now a darker phenomenon too – squatters who demand a “ransom” before they will leave a property,” explains the article.

I put the producers in touch with the British owner of a flat in Sitges – an upmarket resort town just south of Barcelona -who recently had to pay a gang of Moroccan squatters extortion money for them to leave. His interview makes clear the squatters were only interested in extortion, not somewhere to live. See Squatter horror stories: Extortion in Sitges.

The squatters stole everything from the flat when they left after collecting the ransom. Well, almost everything; they left a pair of leopard-skin loafers behind, which were not to their taste.

Not to the taste of squatters

Another owner who recently got in touch with me after her holiday-home in Manilva (Costa del Sol) was held to ransom by a squatter extortion gang found them with a removal van emptying the property of all her possessions as they left, so it appears that your furniture and private possessions are al part of the bounty as far as squatter extortion gangs are concerned.

In the BBC interview I make the point that a particularly risky moment for owners is when they advertise their property for sale or rent. This helps squatters identify empty and habitable properties whose owners are ripe for extortion because squatters make the property impossible to rent or sell. Personally, I would never advertise the address of a property for rent or sale in Spain because of this threat. The more expensive the property, the bigger the ransom squatter-extortion gangs can demand.

The squatter problem in Spain is biggest in Catalonia, where almost half of all reported cases take place. But most of the problem is in Barcelona itself which has become a squatter’s paradise under the current city council.

As I point out in the BBC programme, although Spain’s squatter friendly laws encourage extortion, and have even created a new criminal business model that is more lucrative and less risky than old-fashioned robbery, local authorities are also instrumental in encouraging squatting if they take a tolerant approach, as is the case in Barcelona.

Lucia Martín, Barcelona City Council’s housing minister, rejects outright the possibility that extortion is encouraged by official permissiveness. “It’s a fallacy to think the mafias are going to disappear if we make squatting laws harsher,” she told the BBC. “The criminals are taking advantage of a real problem, which is the lack of affordable housing.”

Whilst the politicians in charge don’t even recognise the problem how can it get better?

The hard men removing squatters in Spain article at the BBC website

Catalonia: Squatters, eviction and extortion audio at Radio 4 web

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