Spain's female Wyatt Earp in the dock: Marbella's anti-corruption judge has made enemies on the Costa del Crime. Phil Davison reports

FOR Blanca Esther Diez, a 31- year-old judge from Marbella, tomorrow's will be her toughest case and the outcome is out of her hands. The judge will be in the dock, challenged by a system she has fought to prove is riddled with corruption.

Formally, she is charged with dereliction of duty and revealing details of a case. If found guilty, she would be the first judge condemned on such charges in Spain's modern history. That could mean two months in jail, suspension for three years and a fine of 100 million pesetas (nearly pounds 500,000 ). Her Marbella home has already been 'embargoed' - held as collateral - to cover the possible costs of the trial.

Effectively, someone is trying to run her out of town. When Judge Diez, from the northern Asturias region, then only 27, hit Marbella four years ago, it was as though a young female Wyatt Earp had blown in to clean up the town. Thousands of Marbellans have marched in her support and five leading citizens are approaching one month on hunger strike, demanding an end to judicial corruption.

'The Spanish Inquisition continues, quite literally,' said one of the hunger strikers, a retired businessman, Fernando Rosado, 62. 'Justice in Spain is the best money can buy. There must be some honourable judges but they are cowards. By being cowardly, they're protecting the corrupt.'

For once, when the British tabloid press refer to the Costa del Sol with their favoured Costa del Crime headlines, they are not wrong. British, Italian, Arab and other high- flying criminals, live and operate here in style, flaunting their wealth with large yachts at the nearby Puerto Banus marina. Judge Diez believes she has found out some of the reasons why.

She compiled dossiers that she said linked former judicial officials here with the Sicilian Santapaola Mafia clan. Her dossiers suggested illegal laundering of Italian Mafia money through the purchase of art works, antiques and, especially, property.

Based on investigation of past cases and judgements, as well as sworn statements from witnesses who wrote to her supporting her anti-corruption stand, Judge Diez's dossier centred on one of Marbella's most influential figures, a former judicial official called Juan Ramirez. Mr Ramirez's exact profession has never been clear, but he worked in the local courts and often acted as a legal adviser to accused persons.

Mr Ramirez, in his sixties and known to some business associates as 'el flaco' (Skinny), is also the father of one of Ms Diez's fellow Marbella judges, Pilar Ramirez, and of a local lawyer, Juan Carlos Ramirez. Judge Diez's lawyer, Luis Bertelli, contends that, under Spanish law, such family ties are illegal in a town of fewer than 10 judges. Marbella has seven judges, including Ms Diez. Mr Bertelli also says Mr Ramirez has acted as a lawyer illicitly since, according to Mr Bertelli, he has no qualifications.

Mr Ramirez has long been a friend of Carmen Proetta, 50, a resident of San Pedro de Alcantara, near Marbella, and the key witness in the 1988 SAS killing of three IRA terrorists. Ms Proetta has said she acted as an interpreter for Mr Ramirez in cases involving Britons.

Acting on witnesses' allegations, Judge Diez ordered Mr Ramirez's phone legally 'bugged' in January last year. She later ordered him jailed in 'preventive detention' pending trial, on suspicion of involvement in the fraudulent sale of a Marbella casino.

After two months inside, another judge - not his daughter - ordered Mr Ramirez freed without bail. Mr Ramirez made a formal complaint against Judge Diez, a move that automatically led to her suspension and tomorrow's trial. He accused her of dereliction of duty and of revealing details of his case. She denies both accusations, saying Mr Ramirez and corrupt colleagues are trying to get her off their patch.

According to Mr Bertelli, the phone tap revealed a close friendship between Mr Ramirez and Jose-Luis Manzanares, vice-president of Spain's General Council of Judicial Power, the legal watchdog body appointed by parliament.

That relationship has turned the judge's trial into an event of national importance.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...