By Humphrey Carter

THE Mayor of Andratx, Eugenio Hidalgo, was arrested on suspicion of money laundering, perverting the course of justice, corruption and planning irregularities by the Guardia Civil serious fraud squad yesterday morning along with Jaume Massot, the Balearic director general for planning, and four others.

Conservative Partido Popular Mayor Hidalgo was escorted out of Andratx Town Hall in handcuffs as the Guardia Civil serious fraud squad launched a number of early morning raids on various properties in Andratx and Palma, many of which were still being searched last night.

The Town Hall was sealed off to the public and Hidalgo accompanied the fraud squad back to the municipal building yesterday afternoon to assist with the investigation and their search for evidence.

Three Guardia Civil vans of Hidalgo's seized property, including paintings, were unloaded at their headquarters in Palma yesterday evening.
Hidalgo, who first represented the Independent Andratx Liberal Alliance party, which he also founded, took over as Mayor of Andratx only a year ago, but had previously been the Councillor for Planning for eight years.

Within minutes of his arrest Hidalgo, who was immediately suspended by the Partido Popular, resigned from his post as Mayor and councillor.
Massot was immediately replaced as planning chief but the Partido Popular stood by him with sources claiming that his arrest “has nothing to do with his period in government but when he was on Andratx Town Council.” Nevertheless, his government office was raided and searched by the serious fraud squad.
Yesterday's arrests came in response to a long list of complaints lodged against him from opposition political parties, the Council of Majorca and environmentalists accusing him, and his construction company, Eucar, SL. of allegedly breaking planning laws in the municipality including awarding construction contracts to his own company and building in protected areas.

However, despite well over 100 complaints lodged against Hidalgo over the years, it appears that a 20-block, 150 property development his company is building on protected land may have led to his downfall.

Coincidentally, Hidalgo's relationship with Jaume Massot goes back many years, the Balearic planning chief used to be the Andratx Councillor for Development. Residents in Andratx revealed yesterday that they were not surprised by their mayor's arrest.

Over recent years, the quaint fishing port has witnessed a construction boom and, in June, the Council of Majorca's planning director Bartomeu Vicens spoke of his concerns over possible “irregularities” with regards to the granting of building permits and licences in Andratx. “We could see this coming,” said a group of residents yesterday. “But the big players have yet to be arrested” they added. “It's like Marbella here. Everyone knows what's been going on for years, but nothing has been done,” said one neighbour in the Port. “If the Mayor has done wrong, then he must be made to pay, but for the moment, they've got the least guilty,” he added.

Hidalgo is the third Spanish mayor and one of dozens of public officials arrested this year, accused of granting building permits or re-classifying land in exchange for bribes.

The problem was first exposed in March when police uncovered a web of town hall corruption in Marbella, arrested the mayor, her deputy and dozens of others and confiscated property worth 2.4 billion euros.

In response, the government has introduced legislation to curtail speculation and corruption in a country where building has boomed at an unprecedented rate in the past 10 years.

Over that time, the total area classified as “urban” has grown by a quarter and whole villages have been swallowed up by massive developments of apartment blocks, particularly near Madrid and on the Mediterranean coast.

So far police have arrested around 70 politicians, civil servants and businessmen in the Marbella probe, which has captivated Spain with tales of councillors' filmstar lifestyles and bribes arriving in rubbish bags stuffed with money.

Another mayor was arrested for corruption in the Canary Islands and police are investigating another south of Madrid after he was caught opening a 1 million euro bank account in Andorra and with 30 golden pens stashed in his bank safety deposit box.