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Jesús Gil: President, Politician and Plutocrat

Jesús Gil managed to make a historic sports club, its youth academy, a historic city, and Spanish politics look like a joke, Sarthak Kumar writes.

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Francisco Franco once pardoned him from prison. In the 1960s Gil ran a construction firm building gated communities. A complex he had built in San Rafael, near Segovia, collapsed in 1969, killing 58 people and injuring many others. A subsequent investigation showed that the cement in the new building had not yet set, and the whole project had been completed without use of architects, surveyors, or plans. Gil was sentenced to five years in prison, but was pardoned after 18 months by General Francisco Franco (in exchange for 400 million pesetas, of course).

The first time Spain had gotten to know him was the first time he got out of trouble.

It would not be his last.

In 1991, he founded and led the Grupo Independiente Liberal (GIL), and was elected as mayor of Marbella the same year. He installed a bust of former dictator, Franco, in the town hall and was known for walking the streets of the town shouting abuse at prostitutes and homeless people. His "popularity" as a mayor got him re-elected three times.

Famous for his extreme, right-wing political views, he once called former Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) town councilor Isabel García Marcos a "whore" during town council meetings and, on one occasion, dubbed journalist Carmen Rigalt as "la jinetera del periodismo" (prostitute of journalism). The Málaga coastline, effectively under the area of economic and political influence of the Gil family, became a popular residence for British, Italian and Russian gangsters while he was mayor, as well as a haven for former Nazis either awaiting or avoiding extradition, such as Otto Remer and Léon Degrelle. At the same time, however, Gil instigated several crackdowns on drug users and prostitutes. He was involved in several criminal cases, including the so-called Caso de las camisetas and Caso Atlético.

While crime rates and open manifestations of poverty decreased dramatically during the first years of his administration, it was at the expense of civil liberties, including the beatings of delinquents and prostitutes, deportation of foreigners with low incomes, handouts of money to homeless people in exchange for leaving town, etc. The subsequent "apparent" improvement in the lifestyle of a segment of the population was cited as a main reason for his re-election.

The truth, however, is that money was going somewhere else - in 1999, he was imprisoned, charged with crimes of misappropriation of public funds and falsifying a public document. Then, in October 2000 he was banned for 28 years from holding public office and awarded six months of arrest. He had diverted 450 million pesetas from the City Council to Atlético Madrid.

Gil was in preventive custody the week of April 16, 2002, due to the embezzlement of millions of pesetas of the City Council of Marbella attacked between the years 1991 and 1995. Just eight days later, he left the Mayor's office.

His farewell address was greeted with cheers.

His presidency at Atlético is more openly known - just two nights before Atlético Madrid’s 1987 presidential election, Gil showed up with a promise that he had an agreement in place with Porto to sign Paulo Futre.

He subsequently won the election, defeating Enrique Sánchez de León by 6,219 votes to 3,465.

And while top four finishes in his first five seasons in charge and Copa del Rey wins in 1991 and 1992 were glamorous, what followed was a turbulent relationship with fans, reporters, players and head coaches. In 1992, he shut down Atlético's youth academy, which saw talented 15-year-old Raúl become a legend at crosstown rivals Real Madrid. Moreover, in the same year, he converted the club to a Sociedad Anónima Deportiva (Public Limited Sports Company), to cover up for the fact that he and his business partner - current president Enrique Cerezo - had illegally acquired their 236,056 shares in the club, but the statute of limitations had expired by the time this went to court and they were permitted to keep them. Gil’s son Miguel Ángel Gil Marín still owns - directly and indirectly - just over half of the club’s shares today.

Moreover, in a March 1997 incident as the two teams met in the 1996–97 Champions League quarterfinals, Gil referred to Ajax Amsterdam, due to its many players of Surinamese origin, as FC Congo.

And Marbella politics never escaped Atlético - Tomás Reñones, a right-back and Atléti legend, took up a career in politics after retiring, being elected by Grupo Independiente Liberal (GIL) to the Marbella city hall, in the sports departments.

After the local mayor was arrested due to a corruption scandal, he took office in 2006 as interim, but soon faced the same charges and was arrested by the Spanish police, as part of Operation Malaya.

It is not often that a person is so universally known in so many different industries. But Jesús Gil managed to do what seemed impossible - he managed to make a historic sports club, its youth academy, a historic city, and Spanish politics look like a joke. Atlético are still in debt, Marbella is now swamped with crime gangs from the rest of Europe and the Marbella City Council had to be suspended because of the mess it created.

It remains amazing that Gil, and Gil alone, made that all happen.