'Goldfinger' link to timeshare couple murdered in Tenerife

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The Independent Online

Nine days ago was no exception and the British couple drove their Porsche and £90,000 Mercedes into the nearby Playa de las Americas resort area.

But that night, as they ate their tapas, they were being watched, and, as they drove home, they were followed.

A powerful vehicle rammed the back of both of their cars and forced them off the road as they approached their home in San Miguel de Abona.

Mrs Robinson, 55, appears to have been beaten to death with a rock after getting out of her Mercedes coupe. Her body was discovered in a pool of blood just before midnight.

Her husband, also 55, was driven in his grey Porsche Cayenne to an industrial estate about a mile away, where police believe he was tortured. He was found in the morning in the car with his throat cut.

Nothing appears to have been stolen and Mr Robinson's £100,000 watch was left on his wrist.

Welcome to the brutal world of the Tenerife timeshare business. The murders shocked the couple's friends and employees, but many were not surprised.

Spanish police believe the most likely explanation is that the couple, who ran a highly lucrative timeshare business, were murdered by hitmen hired by rival operators. Another possibility is that the killings were the work of one of the expanding eastern European gangs that are now operating in the Canary Islands and the Spanish mainland.

The Robinsons had been working for the notorious timeshare conman John "Goldfinger" Palmer and still operated from an office that he used.

Palmer - who earned his nickname after being cleared of helping to dispose of gold from the £26m Brink's-Mat robbery at Heathrow airport in 1983 - is living in Essex after being released last year halfway through an eight-year prison sentence for a £30m fraud in which bogus timeshares were sold to 16,000 victims. Local reports suggest that the Robinsons were still in touch with Palmer and had visited him in Britain to discuss the timeshare business.

This was not the first time that Mr Robinson had been attacked. He was badly beaten up about two years ago by gangsters apparently trying to muscle in on the timeshare business. But, as in many of the suspected turf war incidents, he did not make a formal complaint to the police.

The Robinsons moved to Tenerife about 16 years ago where they lived a lifestyle of flash cars, expensive clothes and luxury villas, with their son, Liam, running a business called Global World Travel. The couple regularly returned to London where their daughter, Billie, lives.

Some of their friends and acquaintances talk fondly of them. One, known as Irish Key, recalled their love for their two Jack Russell dogs, Sid and Nancy, and remembers them jumping into the pool at the Robinsons' villa to catch dragonflies.

Another man, who said he knew the couple since 1990, commented: "Flo was a lovely lady. She looked like a young Elizabeth Taylor. She had a good heart and was loved by people from all levels of the industry.

"Billy was no angel but was never a violent or nasty man and didn't deserve to die as he did."

Others who have posted messages on a website called Tenerife Mafia, disagree. One said: "When Palmer was released, Billy felt a little safer because his "protection" was free again. "Billy had kept in contact with him throughout his sentence and was sure that new business opportunities would arise. Occasionally some people have to be made an example to bring all the others back in line and therefore "Goodbye Billy and Flo".

The rumours have pointed towards a former rival of Palmer, a Lebanese man, as someone with a grudge against Mr Robinson.

Another acquaintance commented: "The way they lived and not keeping a low profile plus their connections, it was bound to go wrong one day."

While a rival timeshare owner is thought to be the most likely murder suspect, Albanian, Kosovan and Romanian gangsters have been moving into the Canary Islands. At first they controlled the drugs, cheap labour and organised begging rackets, but have been trying to move into property and timeshares.

But Captain Gonzalez Amador, of the Guardia Civil in Tenerife, pointed out: "This is a complex case. Eastern European crime gangs usually rob and kill people for their luxury cars or belongings and this did not happen here."

A source in Tenerife added: "The trail appears to have gone very cold. It doesn't look like the police are getting anywhere."

One of the latest correspondents on the Tenerife Mafia website believes the explanation is simple: "Tenerife has always been run by gangsters and mafia with fear long being the effective motivator for sales staff - so the murders of Billy and Flo are not a surprise. If you play with fire you get your fingers burnt. The fact he still had his watch on was a statement, not a mistake."