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Thursday, 11 July, 2002, 12:20 GMT 13:20 UK
Life on the 'Costa del Crime'
Yachts in Puerto Banus
Britain has 230 known criminals sheltering in Spain

The sun beats down on more than 1bn worth of yachts.

Top-of-the-range Rolls-Royces, Mercedes and BMWs jostle for position on the quayside as their owners sip Moet & Chandon in the restaurants or shop in the designer boutiques.

This is Puerto Banus, a luxury suburb of Marbella in southern Spain and truly a millionaire's paradise.

But who are these people and where does their wealth come from?

The majority are legitimate businessmen, but Britain currently has a list of 230 known criminals sheltering in Spain and many of them are believed to live in and around Puerto Banus.

Yachts
Puerto Banus: Millionaire's paradise.
The Costa del Sol has seen an upsurge in violent crime in recent years with British, Irish and Russian gangs vying with local Spanish criminals for command of the lucrative drugs trade.

Morocco is only 40 miles away across the southern horizon.

The profit margins for smuggling Moroccan cannabis and Colombian cocaine are too tempting for many ex-pats, even when threatened with imprisonment or death.

A Briton was arrested in April this year in nearby Fuengirola after a consignment of cannabis and cocaine was discovered.

And drug dealer Scott Bradfield, from London, was murdered in October 2001.

His limbs were found in a suitcase on wasteland near Torremolinos in December and his head and torso were discovered in another case nearby.

Supergrass

Mr Bradfield was the prime suspect in the murder of James Gaspa, who was shot dead at his home in Islington, north London, in May 2000.

Police were about to issue an extradition warrant for him and it is possible he was killed to prevent him turning supergrass.

But he may have been executed simply because his dealing had encroached on a rival's territory.

The drugs trade and the property boom are luring criminals of all nationalities to the Costa del Sol.

Deborah Johnson - not her real name - is a British estate agent who works on the coast.


If you are a known criminal you are going to get caught nowadays

Deborah Johnson
Estate agent
She said there was a degree of "no questions asked" when foreigners bought property, often in cash.

"We had a lot of cash buys just before the euro came in," she said.

Police said they feared criminals would try to launder money in old European currencies to avoid having to exchange it for euros and in the process declare it.

"The last couple of years those with money have been Russians and Polish, but mainly Russians," Miss Johnson told BBC News Online.

She said the price of property had gone "sky high" in the last year.

Her agency advertises six-bedroom villas for 2.28m euros (1.45m) and even two-bedroom apartments for 143,000 euros (91,315).

There have been reports of drugs being smuggled into Puerto Banus on luxury yachts, which are less likely to be searched than dilapidated fishing boats.

Legal changes

But Mike Fernley, who skippers a 2m yacht for an American businessman, cast doubt on such talk.

Mr Fernley, originally from Bradford, said: "There is no way any captain worth his salt is going to get involved.

"We are the ones who would get in trouble if a boat is stopped and drugs are found on board.

Wasteground where Scott Bradfield's head and torso were found
Scott Bradfield's remains were found on wasteground
"The owner could probably talk his way out of it by claiming the crew had done it without his knowledge."

But drugs are getting into Spain somehow and many British ex-pats are getting rich on them.

However, there is a black cloud on the horizon for the "Costa del Crime".

A new Extradition Bill is going through Parliament and is due to become law by February 2003.

It will allow people to be extradited to the UK from any other EU country - and vice versa - even if the offence for which they are wanted is not a crime in the host nation.

Spanish Prime Minister Josie Maria Aznar, whose country holds the EU presidency, is determined Spain should co-operate fully with its European partners.

Miss Johnson said: "Spain is no longer a haven. The Spanish police are working far closer with foreign police.

"If you are a known criminal you are going to get caught nowadays."

It looks like time is running out for the "Costa del Crime".

See also:

22 Nov 01 | UK Politics
30 Dec 00 | Europe
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