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On this day in 2005 a total of 41 people were arrested in Marbella, Estepona, San Pedro de Alcántara, Mijas and Sotogrande, including three notaries and several lawyers in the Ballena Blanca (white whale) case – the largest money laundering ring in Spain.
The arrests were made after police investigations into the owner of Del Valle Abogados law firm, Fernando del Valle, and a number of colleagues and associates.
Chilean-born Del Valle was considered to be at the centre of a money-laundering ring, which included criminal gangs engaged in drug-dealing, arms-trafficking, tax fraud and prostitution in a number of countries including Spain, the UK, Russia, France and the USA.
Del Valle was found to have set up around 500 illegal companies in ‘tax havens’ such as Gibraltar on behalf of his largely foreign clientele and given the company in the name of one of his own Spanish employees.
In a series of arrests and raids which took place on 10 March 2005, police seized documents on 251 properties, two aircraft, 42 high-end cars, a yacht and 410,000 euros in cash.
Investigating judge Miguel Ángel Torres led the case and the following Tuesday Del Valle was sent to Alhaurín de la Torre prison charged with money laundering, tax fraud and falsification. However, six months later he was released after paying 600,000 euros in bail money. The three notaries were not given prison sentences having paid 50,000 euros in bail.
In total the investigation took six years to complete, due to its complexity and international links. In the end 21 people were linked with the case and it was found that a total of 12 million euros had been laundered through the various illegal businesses.
On 1 April 2011, Del Valle reappeared in court and was sentenced to six years in prison and ordered to pay a 2.6 million euro fine. Others sentenced or fined included a French drug dealer and a Finn.
Media reaction at the time to the sentences was critical and questioned the decisions of the judge Federico Morales (pictured left), who read out the sentences.
Critics said the court had been too lenient with the defendants and that it gave those accused in the Malaya case – concerning corruption at Marbella Town Hall – which was ongoing at that point, reasons to be optimistic.