The Ajuntamento of Sant Josep’s controversial plans to auction the boroughs beach concessions have resulted in accusations of money laundering, muscle man intimidation, drug smuggling, tax fraud, and just being a right bastard.
The auction raised a quite staggering 4.6m€ for licences to operate sunbeds and parasols on beaches extending from Playa den Bossa round the south coast of Ibiza through to San Antonio Bay. Dozens of businessmen attended the auction on Tuesday with bidding accepted by a show of hands. The top price raised for a single lot amongst the 153 on offer was 735,400€. This record price was for the concession of 260 beds and 180 parasols in Cala Bassa.
This being the first such auction families who had earned a living on the beaches for many decades soon realised they would not be able to compete with the deep pockets of entrepreneurs from outside Ibiza. Particularly prominent in the buy up was Mahy Marrero Sosa who currently faces a 16 year prison sentence for the discovery of 452kilos of cocaine on his private yacht. In that trial, for which he is awaiting sentence, he also admitted a charge of fraud to the treasury. Marrero used 8 companies in the auction process, 6 of them to gain 11 lots including 3 premium positions in Playa den Bossa, 2 in Cala Compte and 2 in Cala Carbo. Of his drug trial Marrero has claimed that the yacht was not his but cousin’s and that he had voluntarily declared the irregularities in taxation to the Hacienda. Downplaying the trial he said he had come to Ibiza to do business because it offered the same opportunities as the Canary Islands, but greater rewards for lesser effort.
Winning bids have been seen as way over the required break-even level of the concession. One reason businesses are willing to pay such inflated sums is considered to be that they are not really interested in sunbed and parasol rental, indeed many are now not even charged. It is the ability to charge premium beverage prices on beaches directly in front of premium hotels and beach clubs.
Even businessman and former foreign minister Abel Matutes ultimately paid 355,100€ for 180 beds and 90 umbrellas in front of his own hotel in Playa den Bossa after a fierce bidding war with Marrero that started at just 66,000€.
His daughter Carmen Matutes paid 153,000€ for another stretch of sunbeds stating that “we do not do this as a business; we need to keep this service available to customers”. Many of those bidding against Marrero who could not meet his price resorted to public and vocal insults creating quite a scene in the town hall. “You’re a Bastard” was shouted by one frustrated bidder. Similar reactions were made when he took what was described by Spanish press El Mundo as a seemingly absurd lot. A table and chair in the navigation channel of Cala Compte that a father and son used to take simply to afford them some shade sold for 16 times its previous fixed price of 500€ when Marrero made his ultimate winning bid of 8,000€
Existing concession holder Oscar Carbonell repeated his no holds barred accusations made to the Diario de Ibiza earlier in the year. Carbonell is in no doubt that Marrero’s sole objection was that of money laundering. Assessing the mathematics he said that it would need to be sunny every day for the entire concession period, and every sunbed and parasol would need to be rented every day for 4.5 months, simply to cover the fees paid for the concession without any allowance for wages, and other operating costs.
The auction session even devolved into pushing and shoving. El Mundo reported that representatives of Nassau, one of the Island’s most prestigious venues, lost one of its previously held concessions of some 162 beds and 81 umbrellas, due to an oversight that left Marrero holding the contract in exchange for a fee of 90,300€. When Marrero went to leave the room several people with what the Spanish daily described as a “security baring” and wearing Nassau shirts, surrounded him. This prompted Marrero to turn and shout to everyone: “If tonight I am found floating in the sea (perhaps an unfortunate choice of criminal underworld execution for a man standing on charges of the discovery of 452kg of cocaine on his private yacht), you will already know who it was.” An agent of the Local Police of San José then escorted Marrero to a taxi.
The auction will quadruplicate income compared to the previous fixed asking price for the concessions, putting an extra 3.45 million euros into public coffers.
Mayor Mari Ribas Agustinet was unrepentant. “For the first time we took advantage of our strength as a premium and most desired destination” he said. “Do I have to apologise for this? I think not.” Said the Socialist Mayor whose party leads the San Josep Government with the support of Guanyem.
There are no plans in the other municipalities to follow suit in auctioning concessions.
I will be pleased and relieved to get these last few days prior to the season proper out of the way. This and every year it seems that the months before the tourist season necessitate the greatest level of wading through news that is never likely to be held up as an example of man’s finest hour. Financial scandals, business brutality, corruption, rafts of often ill considered regulations all go to make an Ibiza sleaze soup the foul taste of which can only be washed away with the positivity and activity of the main tourist season.
With that in mind I sincerely hope the story of the San Jose beach concession auctions will mark the last week where negative outweighs positive for some months to come. Fitting then that we should go out on what feels to me possibly the most incomprehensible story from a winter where there has been no shortage of contenders.
Mayor Marí Ribas Agustinet said the following “For the first time we took advantage of our strength as a premium and most desired destination” he said. “Do I have to apologise for this?“
Frankly yes, of course you bloody do. Didn’t you go on the new Major’s induction course? One of the most important responsibilities of your role is to act as San Josep’s moral compass, to keep those that would do us harm away. To ‘be’ Sant Josep in our stead. That does not mean flogging off our assets to any dodgy character with cash on his hip.
To argue that the income justifies the means is not a luxury somebody holding senior public office can enjoy. I do not blame Marrero for his actions. From everything that has been said I think he is simply pursuing life as he sees it should be pursued. Remember also that for every bid he won, somebody else was prepared to pay a few euros less. Anybody capable of simply shrugging off charges of this magnitude and confidently presenting himself in the manner he did, would probably make a Tarrentino character we would find ourselves rooting for. For exactly the same reasons, it makes him an individual with whom the government cannot do business.
The Spanish Institute of National Statistics issued a report in February this year stating that after unemployment, corruption amongst public officials was still by far the biggest concern to Spanish citizens. This alone would surely make any politician working to the will of the people unwilling to do business with Marrero, however there are a whole list of backup reasons that the Mayor seems to have so casually overlooked in focussing entirely on the financial return.
- Money laundering prevention.
All of us have to jump through hoops to even open a bank account into which an employer can direct deposit wages. A lot of hoops.
Yet here, in a context where calculations prove that if the concessions achieved previously unheard of occupancy levels, 100% for a straight 4 and a half months, the income would no more than cover the licence fee without taking any operating costs into account. Why? Why does a business want to invest in the wholly unattractive proposition? Let us be generous and say they have a valid commercial reason. Fine. But you’ve got to ask the bloody question! Are you really so arrogant as to say that the entire Western world now works to Money Laundering controls, but the the mayor of San Jose is exempt?
- Fit Person Checks
Then we have the appropriateness of the concession licences for a man with drug supply connections. I may not have experience in international bulk drug supply but were this my trade and were I asked what would be the ideal conduit to distribute those drugs I think a network of locations spread around the entire island, where cash is exchanged by nature of the business and so would not seem out of place, and where I could reach my target market in the hours prior to their time of drug consumption, would just about be the dream ticket. It is irrelevant whether this is the intention in this case, the point is surely, surely, something so important should have been taken into consideration.
- Ribas, Man of the People
Our mayor adopts something of a swagger in his “should I apologise”. My people needed the money and I got it. OK tough guy, so we still need money, how about auctioning off a few taxi licences.? They are needed for exactly the same reasons of being a premium location. There would definitely be buyers queuing up. No of course you wouldn’t dare. ISIS would think twice about taking on Ibiza’s taxi lobby. Doing it to those you can shaft, but not to those who will shaft you back is, well, it’s a bit yuk really isn’t it?
Of course there have been quite legitimate means of raising funds that have been let go. We reported only 3 weeks ago, that San Jose has been failing to collect 1m€ per year in Cadastral. Legitimate, clean, ongoing. Yet we ignore that in favour of an auction/circus.
The mayor says that we the people, and I can include myself as a tax paying resident of San Jose, will be pleased that this additional income will improve our environment, our water supply etc. Well I for one, am not.
It should be about more than money and though in our private lives we all choose our own direction on the moral compass, in public life this makes it all the more important that we have leaders that demonstrate a clear and strong focus on the right direction, that being simply put, ‘doing the right thing’.
If our leaders do not recognise that basic premise we may as well get ready for a great San Jose flog off. Rent giant advertising space in the Ses Salines Nature Reserve, corporate sponsored wildlife. And perhaps for a true piece of Alan B’Stard, in future why not allocate blood test appointments at the health centre not on the order of arrival, but by auction, with the added excitement that if those needing public transport could not get a high enough number to catch their return service they would face a very long walk home. Sound harsh? Why, it is the method by which we gain most income and apparently that is all that matters.