They range from extremely powerful, tightly structured mafias, like the Serbian, Morrocan and Dutch groups, to gangs of small-time burglars. Most groups specialise in one or more of the various activities that revolve around trafficking drugs: buying merchandise, protection and security, transportation, distribution, money laundering. Almost none of these groups can manage the whole process by themselves, which makes collaboration essential.
A prosecutor in the region put it like this: “Anyone who thinks that the criminal organisations are the same as they were before – structured like a pyramid, managing every aspect of the business – well, they’re wrong. It’s not like that any more. It’s a lot more like in the TV series ZeroZeroZero, where everyone has to form alliances and each group takes on certain things. They’re not cartels, they’re service providers: it’s the Uberisation of organised crime.” Because of this, there’s also no division of territory. “It’s not possible to make a map, like they’ve done, for example, with Mexico,” he says. “Instead, you’d have to make a diagram that reflects the division of labour, the different roles and activities of each organisation.”
The groups in Costa del Sol, said one Marbella-based drug trafficker, “are talking with each other all day long, asking each other questions”. Everyone knows everything, he said, “and almost everyone knows each other”. Meetings take place in discreet locations: shopping centres, fast-food restaurants or parks, or during a stroll through a public garden in a luxury development.
While there might not be any clearly marked territories on the Costa del Sol, each group has its own stomping grounds – the businesses and other locations they frequent and control. And it’s important, the trafficker said, sipping his drink, that everyone knows the rules. “If a Brit walks into an Albanian gym, for example, he’s gonna have a problem.” The Irish have their own pubs in Puerto Banús; the Moroccans have their own bars, where there’s no (public) alcohol consumption but they smoke shisha; the Colombians hang out at the shopping centres; the Camorra have their pizzerias, and there are specific hotels for English gangsters. The police know a lot of these places by name.
Beyond its own frontiers, Marbella is inextricably linked to Dubai by crime.
Most of the area’s criminal groups live between these two cities. “Dubai is like Marbella but with no rules and no law,” said one high-level Costa del Sol criminal. “It’s extremely rare for them to arrest anyone there. It’s only happened a few times, and always for some underlying political reason. Most of the top bosses live there, and then they spend the summer in Marbella. The soldados go to Dubai when they feel like they’re under surveillance. We’re protected there. There’s no extradition.”