Friday, July 18, 2008

Not Everyone Can Win The Lottery

It’s not just on the Mediterranean where major corruption cases linked to construction interests emerge. Even though Madrid doesn’t have a playa (vaya vaya) that doesn’t mean the region is of no interest to the anti corruption prosecutors. The latest major case concerns a place just over the border in Toledo province called Seseña. This village, which used to have just 9000 inhabitants, was the place chosen for a massive new property development designed to attract those leaving Madrid in search of cheaper housing. The man behind this development is called Francisco Hernando, although he is more commonly referred to as "El Pocero". The development has now become something of a symbol of the end of the construction boom, only 5000 of the intended 13000+ dwellings have been constructed and only around a thousand are occupied. For sale signs placed by those who bought there now compete with the efforts of El Pocero’s own company to shift unsold units.

The hugely controversial development should never have been started at all, it was approved by the previous municipal administration against the advice of the technicians and despite it being located in an area where water supplies could not be guaranteed. Eventually the PSOE run administration that approved the plan was disowned by their party and the municipality came under the control of Izquierda Unida and a mayor absolutely opposed to El Pocero’s plans. Now it has been announced that the former PSOE mayor is under investigation for a highly suspicious increase in his personal wealth since El Pocero came to town. The former mayor claims that his new found wealth, estimated at over 600000 euros, is due to some good luck with a lottery ticket.

Meanwhile El Pocero is actively seeking revenge against the new administration in Seseña, who have dared to defy him and who were returned to power in last years municipal elections. He has launched a whole series of legal cases against the mayor, Manuel Fuentes, whose supporters are now being forced to raise funds to pay a court imposed guarantee. As if that wasn’t bad enough Hernando is seeking to sue the municipality for compensation for his unsold properties! The municipality has already been forced to raise taxes to pay for services for the new residents of a development that they never wanted to have. The situation illustrates all of the ugliest characteristics of those cases where a powerful developer attempts to impose his will on local politicians and create facts on the ground that the law will later be unable to do anything about. It’s a battle that Seseña needs to win, not just for reasons of democratic hygiene but also as an all too rare demonstration that money doesn’t always talk.

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