The gangster, the lawyer, his wife and her hit man

SPAIN has a taste for bloodthirsty gangster movies laced with black humour, but the case of the beautiful young woman who hired a hit squad to gun her lawyer husband down for his fortune would be rejected at most script conferences as crude and implausible.

Few would add the twist that the lawyer had once acted for his would- be killers, that he would miraculously survive the drive-by hail of bullets and that - his lovely wife in detention, charged with his attempted murder - he would swear undying love and offer her covert legal advice, though perhaps just to keep her quiet.

Laura Fernandez Navarro, 29, of good family, met the bald and overweight lawyer Jose Emilio Rodriguez Menendez, 52, by answering an advertisement he had placed in El Pais newspaper seeking an economist in 1998. The couple married three months later, and settled in a smart Madrid suburb.

But Laura developed a taste for gambling on the stock market, and became "annoyed" when her husband uncharacteristically refused her request for some money. She allegedly hired a gang of killers to shoot Jose, so that she could inherit his fortune. But he survived and Laura weeps in prison awaiting trial. So far, so chilling.

But the bizarre steps towards this denouement are pure film noir. Laura made contact with her hitman in the course of inquiring about buying a Mercedes. The young man who dealt with her request, Jose Ignacio ("Nacho") Rocha, offered her a little deal: if she helped convince her husband to buy the car, she would earn a million pesetas (pounds 4,000) commission. But Mr Menendez refused, sending Nacho away with a flea in his ear.

Undaunted, Nacho then contacted a friend, Angel Suarez Flores, alias "Casper", sought by Belgian authorities in connection with drug-trafficking, for whom Mr Menendez had acted in the past. Knowing their previous connection, Nacho arranged for the two men to get together over dinner with their wives, so that Mr Suarez Flores could persuade the lawyer to buy the car.

Mr Menendez still wouldn't budge, but Nacho told Laura not to worry, they would get the money somehow. They met at least twice to plan their next step, and their friendship became more intimate. One idea was for Nacho to feign an attack on Laura and plunder the couple's strongbox, which she assured him contained up to 50m pesetas in cash. She promised Nacho 15 per cent.

But Laura got cold feet, whereupon - according to her confession to the judge - the car salesman turned killer. "He became aggressive. He said he would not tell me the day or the time, that we wouldn't speak again and that I would see what would happen." Shortly afterwards, as Mr Menendez drove home late one night, two men drove by on a motorcycle and shot him, wounding him badly in the chest. His driver and bodyguard fired back, hitting Nacho in the buttocks.

The incident enabled police to complete a year-long investigation into a racket of extortion, bank robberies and money laundering carried out by a gang allegedly orchestrated by Angel Suarez Flores. Within hours of the attack on the lawyer, 22 gang members were rounded up and police seized 1bn pesetas in cash, arms, luxury cars, properties, and jewels. It was, said Madrid's police chief, "the most sophisticated, best-funded and best-equipped criminal organisation in the whole of Spain". The group owned countless properties and various companies, including a car dealership - run by "Nacho" Rocha.

Rodriguez Menendez, now recovering at home, is himself a controversial character, who started acting as a lawyer before qualifying in 1981, and has a track record of defending Galician drug barons as well as security officials involved in police mafias and government-sponsored terror gangs. In one case, of Civil Guardsmen accused of drug trafficking with informers, he began by defending one of the accused, then spectacularly joined his accusers.

The lawyer has been attacked before, in 1995, by Wilfredo Munoz, brother of the second of his three wives, Viviana. Munoz allegedly knifed him in his office after demanding 800,000 pesetas owed for work in a brothel on Mr Menendez's property, according to Munoz's lawyers. Mr Menendez is also accused of bigamy, since he was still married to his first wife when he wed Viviana.

In 1997 he allegedly distributed a scandalous video of the editor of El Mundo newspaper, Pedro J Ramirez, who was secretly filmed wearing a scarlet corset while cavorting with an African prostitute named Exuberencia. The lawyer is accused of printing images of the video in a rival newspaper Ya, which he edited at the time.

Despite enjoying daily visits from his ex-wife, Viviana, Mr Menendez insists Laura is the love of his life. But some say he is reluctant to press charges, in case his current wife tells what she knows about his own murky past. For real-life drama, screenwriters need look no further.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

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

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own