Mafia drug clan raided in Spanish sting operation

Spanish police on Tuesday arrested about 20 suspected members of a mafia group thought to be involved in an international drug-running empire worth around a billion euros, a judicial source said.

Mafia drug clan raided in Spanish sting operation
Clan boss Giuseppe Polverino was arrested in the southern Spanish city of Jerez de la Frontera in May 2012. Photo: YouTube

The sting operation, carried out in cities across Spain including  Tarragona, Castellón, Alicante, Málaga, Cádiz and Ceuta at the request of Spanish anti-corruption prosecutors, targeted suspected members of the Polverino clan, added the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The arrests of clan members were for crimes including money laundering, forging official documents, Spanish news site El Confidencial reported on Tuesday.

Polverino members are also suspected of shipping hashish from Morocco to Spain and then to Naples in southern Italy.

According to Italian police, the clan's leader, Giuseppe Polverino, controlled part of the traffic in drugs between Spain and Italy and an empire worth around a billion euros ($1.3 billion).

He was arrested in March 2012 in Jerez de la Frontera in southern Spain.

Members of the Polverino clan are wanted in Italy for membership of a mafia association, attempted murder, extortion, usury, illegal possession of weapons, drug trafficking and money laundering.

The group, which operates in the northern suburbs of Naples, is also accused of importing hashish into Italy from Spain.

Spain's proximity to Morocco, a major hashish producer, and its close ties with its former colonies in Latin America, a major cocaine-producing region, have made it a key entry point for drugs bound for Europe.

The Polverino drugs are moved inside trucks that enter Spain via the ports of Valencia and Barcelona, according to Spain's El Confidencial newspaper.

Several Italian mafia clans have transferred their more risky activities such as drug trafficking to Spain, according to Italian journalist Roberto Saviano, the author of "Gomorrah," the best-selling expose on the criminal underworld in Naples.

Camorra bosses refer to Spain's Mediterranean coast as "Costa Nostra", or "our coast", alluding to the Sicilian mafia "Cosa Nostra", according to Saviano.

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11 Alicante life hacks that will make you feel like a local

Spain's Alicante province is home to 375,000 foreigners, but even in a sunny easy-going place where many choose to retire, life can have its challenges. Here are 11 hacks that will make life on the Costa Blanca run more smoothly for you.

11 Alicante life hacks that will make you feel like a local
An aerial view of Alicante, where one in every five people are foreigners. Photo: José Jordan/AFP

Alicante, a province that’s part of Spain’s Valencia region on the country’s east coast, is famous for its sandy beaches, year-round sun and international community. 

The city of Alicante, and the wider province that includes foreigner hotspots Torrevieja, Benidorm, and Villajoyosa, are a fantastic and affordable place to visit, but making the move permanent can be trickier.

Here’s a selection of tips, tricks and other hacks to make daily affairs and outings in Alicante easier and cheaper, based on the experiences of Conor Patrick Faulkner, a Spain-based journalist who’s lived in the province. 

Understand where you want to be

When many in the UK talk of Alicante, they are in fact referring to the wider Alicante province and its cluster of tourist hotspots. 

The city of Alicante itself is a medium-sized coastal city of around 330,000 and while international, is definitely a distinctly Spanish city. 

If you are thinking about moving to Alicante, consider if you want to be in the busier city, with a younger demographic, or in one of the many nearby towns that are popular among foreign retirees.

If you fancy the city and want a truly alicantino experience, hang out around the old neighbourhood of Santa Cruz, known as ‘el barrio’ by locals, for a taste of authentic Spanish nightlife.

The neighbourhood of Santa Cruz in Alicante. Photo: Olga Berrios
The neighbourhood of Santa Cruz in Alicante. Photo: Olga Berrios

Take advantage of Alicante’s location

Alicante-Elche airport is one of Spain’s most popular airports, with dozens of direct connections to British and European cities. 

It’s just 14km from the city itself, there are a number of bus services, and a taxi isn’t too expensive if you’re in a rush. There’s also a host of direct shuttle bus services to Benidorm and Torrevieja.

If you decide to live in the city itself, live as the locals do and explore the province. 

Beat the beach crowds

At the weekend, many alicantinos avoid Alicante’s more popular beaches and take day trips to beautiful coastal towns like Altea and Dénia, up the coast towards Valencia, or drive south to Murcia’s Costa Cálida.

San Juan and El Campello beaches are less touristy than Alicante’s main beach, El Postiguet, and many locals prefer to take the short drive or tram ride and get away from the crowds.

For Britons and Irish nationals who are really missing home, there’s always taking the 40-minute drive up to Benidorm and enjoying a full English breakfast or pint of beer. They can also make the journey on the province’s coastal tram service.

READ ALSO: The towns in Spain where Brits outnumber locals

One of the quieter beaches in El Campello. Photo: mandoft/Flickr
One of the quieter beaches in El Campello. Photo: mandoft/Flickr

Buy a tram pass

No true alicantino pays for single fares on the tram. Save yourself some money and pay for a BONO 10 or 30 pass and swipe on and off using your preloaded journeys. You can add extra journeys if you want to take a daytrip and explore the province.

Learn some Spanish

Although many foreigners in towns such as La Marina manage to get by only speaking English, take advantage of Alicante’s international population to pick up some Spanish. 

Many locals are keen to learn and practice their English, so head down to one of Alicante’s many intercambio de idiomas (language exchanges and learn some Spanish, or take classes at one of the city’s many language academies. 

Take advantage of the markets

Once you’ve picked up some Spanish, you’ll be ready to shop like a local and utilise Alicante’s fantastic markets. 

While locals of course use Mercadona and Consum, many buy their meat, fish, fruit and veg from either Alicante’s impressive Mercado Central, beneath the Castillo de Santa Bárbara, or the smaller twice-weekly Benalúa market.

This is a great way to save money and the produce is always fresher than the supermarket. Live as alicantinos do and buy, cook, and eat your fish the same day it was caught.

A butcher's at Mercado Central in Alicante. Photo: Lisa Risager/Flickr
A butcher’s at Mercado Central in Alicante. Photo: Lisa Risager/Flickr

Buy a water filter

While enjoying your fresh fish with a caña or glass of local wine is the true alicantino way to eat lunch, invest in a good quality water filter. Like in many coastal parts of Spain, the tap water isn’t great so many locals use filters not only for the taste, but for the economic and environmental advantages of not buying bottled water.

Slow down – get used to the pace of life

Many people move to Spain to relax on holiday or retire, but getting used to Alicante’s pace of life can take time.

Almost all shops, bars and cafes will close for two or three hours during the afternoon, when locals eat lunch and have a siesta, and very little is open on Sundays, even in the city. 

When making friends or attending language exchanges, let go of your British timekeeping. If you arrange to meet a local, don’t expect them to arrive until at least ten or fifteen minutes after you agreed, perhaps longer. 

Great views without the crowds

Head to San Fernando Castle (Castilla de San Fernando) if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle. 

Alicante’s most famous tourist attraction is el Castillo de Santa Bárbara, a huge 9th century fort castle with incredible coastal views that dates back to the Islamic Empire, but it is often overrun with tourists.

Many locals avoid Santa Bárbara and head instead to Sant Ferran, a short walk away, to enjoy the views. Live like a local and enjoy some food or drink in the surrounding hills. Younger locals often take food and drink and sit in the hills (known as a botellón) to save money.

Get some of the best views of the city while avoiding the crowds from the Castilla de San Fernando. Photo: Paco Cameo/Flickr
Get some of the best views of the city while avoiding the crowds from the Castilla de San Fernando. Photo: Paco Cameo/Flickr

Take advantage of Alicante’s freebies

 Alicante is a city with a host of free museums and attractions, including the Museo de la Ciudad de Alicante (MUSA) and Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Alicante (MACA).

Another good way to get discounts and enjoy freebies in Alicante are the BONO Shopping vouchers, offered by the Department of Commerce. BONO vouchers are worth up to €40 and can be spent in various clothing, footwear, accessories, stationery, computers, bookstores, fashion, opticians and hairdressers and are valid for ten days after you apply for them online.

Discounts for seniors

As part of the Valencia region, Alicante residents of a certain age are eligible to apply for the Valencia region’s ‘Tarjeta del Mayor’ which offers discounts on many services, museums and concerts. To be eligible you must be at least 65 years old and resident in one of Valencia’s municipalities.

Article by Conor Patrick Faulkner, a Spain-based journalist who’s lived in Alicante, Murcia and Seville.