Briton takes over Spanish town after corruption swoop
A BRITISH ex pat who speaks only broken Spanish has taken over a town hall on the Costa Blanca after a wave of corruption arrests.
Mark Lewis, 58, stepped in at San Fulgencio – population 11,000, including 8,000 Brits – after the mayor, deputy mayor and four councillors were held .
He was dubbed The Accidental Mayor by Spanish media yesterday after politics in the town descended into chaos.
Mr Lewis and fellow ex pat Mick Blake are the only two councillors from the ruling coalition who have not been arrested.
Mr Blake, 60, a retired civil servant from Cambridge, also speaks only basic Spanish.
They were elected to the council last year after campaigning on an anticorruption ticket with the AIM party.
A source at the town hall said yesterday: “Everything is in a state of chaos since these arrests. The two British councillors are the only members of the ruling coalition who are not caught up in the scandal.
“Mr Lewis has taken charge of the council on the grounds he is the fourth deputy mayor. Everyone above him in the pecking order has been arrested.”
The scandal began when deputy mayor Manuel Barrera Garcia, 61, was detained by police after allegedly accepting a bribe of 5,000 euros from a property developer.
He was recorded on video allegedly taking the cash to help promote a development including a hotel, golf course and casino.
Mr Garcia was released on bail after making a statement to an investigating judge.
He said: “I am completely innocent. The video was manipulated to make it look like I accepted a bribe.” Socialist mayor Trini Martinez and councillors Juan Gamuz, Juan Palenca, Mariano Marti and Fina Reme were arrested on Wednesday as the corruption probe widened.
Police swooped on the town hall and burst into the mayor’s office, arresting her and seizing documents.
The local police chief and the town hall’s lawyer have also been detained.
Mr Lewis moved to Spain 25 years ago and lives with wife Liz, a teenage daughter, four dogs and two cats. Until last week he held the title Councillor for Animals.
He and Mr Blake were elected to the town hall after helping form the AIM party. It fielded 13 candidates, of whom nine were British, and won three seats after promising to end corruption and improve representation for San Fulgencio’s foreigners. Almost 80 per cent of the population is foreign, most of them British. All the ex pats live in a development called La Marina, three miles from the centre of San Fulgencio.
The town was founded in the 18th century, but the new development has been described as a British ghetto. Bars such as EastEnders and Dreams serve all-day English breakfasts and British beers.
It was unclear yesterday what will happen in the town hall following the arrests.
Popular Party Councillor Maria Asuncion Prieto said: “We don’t know anything.”
It is thought the central government in Madrid may step in to dissolve the council and set up an interim body.
The mayor and five other detainees were quizzed at a police station. The mayor, and two other people were last night released on bail. Nobody has been charged with any offence but three councillors will appear before a judge today.
TAKEOVER: Mark Lewis, inset, who is running San Fulgencio town hall, above, after the arrest of mayor Trini Martinez, right