Crime For Members

Shootings, raids and partying: How Spain's Costa del Crime is thriving

AFP - [email protected]
Shootings, raids and partying: How Spain's Costa del Crime is thriving
Members of the Spanish Guardia civil stand past a person held in custody during a raid targeting the Russian mafia in the Puerto Banus marina area of the southern resort of Marbella. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)

Around 120 international criminal gangs from Ireland, Italy, Russia, the Netherlands, England and numerous other countries use the Costa del Sol city of Marbella as their centre of operations, with shootings and raids becoming all too common in recent years.


Heavily armed police officers wearing face masks entered a luxury home at daybreak last week in Spain's southern Costa del Sol to arrest a 40-year-old suspected drug trafficker.

He is believed to be part of a major cocaine cartel operating inside Europe and beyond, and his arrest was part of the culmination of a three-year operation involving law enforcement from 10 different countries.


The operation highlighted how the sunny coastal region has become a hub for international criminal groups whose members can blend in easily with their millionaire neighbours from around the world.

In recent years more trigger-happy gangs have moved in, raising alarm in the Mediterranean region, which polished its reputation for glitz in the 1970s when the Saudi royal family began spending their summers in Marbella.

While the Costa del Sol is used for money laundering, it is drug trafficking that generates "reckless delinquency, delinquency with no scruples," the chief prosecutor in Marbella, Julio Martínez Carazo, told AFP.

When he took up the post in 1991, crime was mainly carried out by Spanish nationals and the seizure of a gun "was an extraordinary thing," but now officers find automatic weapons, he said.

READ ALSO: Why is Spain Europe's cocaine gateway?

Spain is the gateway to Europe for North African hashish and South American cocaine, making it attractive to international criminal gangs.

And as the world's second-most visited country, it is well connected to other destinations, adding to its appeal.

Members of Spanish Guardia Civil, supported by Europol, arrest a man during an operation against drug trafficking in Mijas, near Marbella. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)

'Scores being settled'

Police in the Costa del Sol have in recent months arrested suspected drug traffickers from Albania, France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Poland and the Netherlands.

But what has really alarmed locals are five shootings this year in Marbella linked to the theft of drugs by rival gangs, including one in March that targeted a popular restaurant frequented by celebrities.

"There are many criminal groups that have a permanent and stable presence on the Costa del Sol and this leads to scores being settled from time to time," Antonio Martínez Duarte, the head of the national police's drugs and organised crime unit UDYCO, told AFP.


Local authorities launched "Plan Marbella" in April to try to curb crime by boosting police numbers in the city of around 141,000 people and raiding several famous nightclubs.

Ten people were arrested during the plan's first month, including some wanted in their home countries.

"It is a recognition by law enforcement that there is a problem here," former Marbella mayor Pepe Bernal told AFP, adding that the establishment of international criminal groups in the region is causing "great dismay".


"Before, these people came to Marbella just to spend their money or to enjoy it," the local opposition councillor said.

The opposition has questioned Marbella's conservative mayor Angeles Muñoz after her Swedish stepson, Joakim Broberg, was charged with money laundering and drug trafficking in a case pending trial.

Her husband, Swedish businessman Lars Broberg, was also charged but he was removed from the case for health reasons before his death in May 2023. She has denied any wrongdoing.

A man drives a car in Puerto Banus luxury marina and shopping complex in Marbella. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)

'Luxury goes unnoticed'

Contacted by AFP, Marbella town hall said in a short statement that the city is "an enviable tourist destination in all areas, including security."

Marbella's old town, with its cobbled streets and traditional whitewashed houses, has an air of security as does its famous Puerto Banus port, home to shops selling luxury brands and exclusive restaurants and nightclubs.

"In Marbella, if you see a Porsche, a Lamborghini, you don't think anything of it," said prosecutor Martínez Carazo. "Luxury goes unnoticed," and that makes it harder to detect ill-gotten wealth, he added.

After an extradition agreement between Britain and Spain expired in 1978, many British criminals settled in the Costa del Sol, prompting the British press to dub it the "Costa del Crime".

Among them was Charlie Wilson, one of the perpetrators of the "Great Train Robbery" of 1963 -- at the time Britain's largest robbery. He was murdered in 1990 at his Marbella home.

In the 1980s there "were mafiosos, but no mafia" in the Costa del Sol, said ex-mayor Bernal. Those criminal gang members "were known because they lived well, and they were jet-setters," he added.

"Now they are not in the limelight, they are not known, but they are here with their organisations. And that's dangerous", he said.

READ ALSO: 'Easiest way to make a living' - Southern Spain struggles to keep youth out of drug gangs



Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also