Gun for hire home
From a bar across the street, Jorge watched his victim step outside and close the door behind him. It was just after sunrise on a cold Monday morning and Félix Martínez, dressed in a suit and elegant overcoat, carried a briefcase and pulled a trolley case behind him. Jorge crossed the street and covered his head with a grey hood, then fell into step behind Martínez. The hitman took a pistol from his pocket and slipped it into a folded newspaper. When the two men reached the next corner, at the intersection of Carrer Santaló and Travessera de Gràcia, Jorge levelled the pistol at the back of Martínez’s head and pulled the trigger. As soon as his victim fell to the pavement, the assailant ran down Carrer Casanova, dumping the pistol and hooded jersey in a bin, then turned up Diagonal to rendezvous with a get-away driver. Félix Martínez died instantly.
February 9th, 2010 marked the first anniversary of ‘the Santaló case’, as it came to be called. It was the most sensational Barcelona contract killing in recent memory, and immediately fuelled speculation about the victim’s ties to shady underworld figures. Rumours of ‘mafia connections’ began to circulate as police began to hypothesize. Yet, as the investigation unfolded, it appeared that Félix Martínez Touriño was an impeccable and upright citizen. The 36-year-old director general of GL Events, which manages the Centro Internacional de Convenciones de Barcelona (CCIB), had worked his way up the corporate ladder from the position of hotel receptionist just 10 years before. People who knew him were unanimously mystified by the murder. It was clearly a contract killing, but many speculated that perhaps it was a case of mistaken identity.
As it turned out, the conspirators were not career criminals per se, and had no connections to organised crime. The motive, quite simply, was money. Martínez had discovered that one of his employees, Manuel Moreno Blancas—‘El Manolo’—was supplementing his €80,000 a year salary by charging commissions to subcontractors. Martínez told El Manolo that he was closing down his subordinate’s chiringuito, and would petition for his dismissal at a meeting of directors in France. El Manolo spoke to his sister’s Colombian husband, who in turn contracted another Colombian in Madrid, who in turn sub-contracted yet another Colombian, 23-year old Jorge Andrés Madrid, to kill Martínez before he could arrive at the meeting in France.
Intendente Josep Lluís Trapero, who headed the case for the Mossos d’Esquadra [Catalan police force], agreed to speak to Metropolitan about the Santaló case. When asked if it represented a rise in firearm murders for Barcelona, he said that in his 15-year career he has studied “a hundred and something” murder scenes. “You can’t say that it’s easier to get firearms in the past two years, than five or 10 years ago. No. In criminal circles, firearms have always been available. If you’re not from that world, it would be difficult, but in the criminal environment it’s not impossible.”
However, Trapero did indicate that firearm murders in and around Barcelona are a bit more common than most people realise, although they remain quite low when compared to many cities. “We have about eight or 10 firearm murders per year. Maybe in one year we could have 15, but in general it’s around half that.”
The pistol used to murder Martínez was a modified replica of a Daewoo DP-51 that had been purchased from an arms ring broken up by the Guardia Civil in early July 2009. Various pistols were reportedly sold for between €3,000 and €6,000, although Trapero suggested that pistols can be purchased in the underworld for “less than €1,000.”
While the Mossos do not provide official homicide data for Barcelona, Trapero insisted that the homicide rate has remained more or less the same over the past 10 or 15 years. “We have about 35 to 40 murders a year. The majority of crimes are gender violence and fights—not fights within organised crime, but outside of bars or over women. These murders are mostly committed with a knife. Fights and gender violence are the most serious groups. Connected to organised crime, that is, career criminals and drug traffickers, for example, we have four or six a year.”
The fact that the homicide rate is not rising is backed up by statistics gathered by the Cuerpo Nacional de Policia (CNP): from 1995 to 2005, the year before the Mossos took jurisdiction from the CNP, the province of Barcelona had between 26 and 43 homicides a year. Five out of nine of those years saw more than 33 murders.
Even if the murder rate is steady, overall, crime seems to be on the rise. A poll published by the Generalitat in October 2009 reported that 8.1 percent of citizens in 2008 answered affirmatively when asked if they had been victims of crime, one point higher than in 2007, and up from five percent in 1999. The same month, the Mossos published data reporting a nearly 40 percent rise in burglaries in 2008.
Many people credit immigration and the rise of ethnically-based organised crime with the rise in criminal activities, a view supported by Inspector Rafael Jiménez of the CNP, although he also cited Spain’s permissive laws, globalisation and advances in telecommunications as contributing factors. The most important element is the nation’s strategic advantage for drug traffickers. “Seventy-five percent of the cocaine in Europe that comes from South America passes through this country. And all the hashish from Morocco comes through Spain or Portugal.”
Jiménez provided a summary, broken down by nationalities of the big players, describing how certain ethnic groups operate in Barcelona and the rest of Spain: Colombians and Mexicans traffic in cocaine; Russians use money from narcotics and prostitution to buy up businesses and property, which they then use to launder money; Balkan mafia—mostly from Albania and Kosovo—specialise in robbery and burglary; Chinese and Nigerians focus most of their activity on prostitution and illegal immigration and Rumanians entice sex slaves and beggars from their home country.
Though six of the eight people implicated in Félix Martínez’s murder were Colombians, none of them were directly linked to an illicit Colombian association. Sahid Sanchez, who received €3,000 for contracting the hitman, did serve nine years in prison for smuggling cocaine and was released in 1999, but the hitman had no prior convictions and was an unemployed manual labourer when he received €9,000 for committing the murder. Indeed, if it had been a gang of professional, career criminals, it might not have been so easy for the Mossos to solve the case and apprehend those who had a part in the killing. The case was cracked almost immediately when police were able to trace suspicious calls received by Martínez to a pay phone, which had also been used to call most of the conspirators at around the same time. Over the following four months, police had only to connect the pieces and establish proof.