Bri­ton takes over Span­ish town af­ter cor­rup­tion swoop

Daily Express - - NEWS - By John Chap­man

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.

Coali­tion

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.

Pic­ture: SOLARPIX.COM

TAKEOVER: Mark Lewis, in­set, who is run­ning San Ful­gen­cio town hall, above, af­ter the ar­rest of mayor Trini Mar­tinez, right

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