A Mexican Oil Chief’s Hide-out: Sea Views and 2 Golf Courses


BENAHAVÍS, Spain — Fugitives often hole up in remote locations. But when the fugitive is the powerful former chief of Mexico’s state oil company, not just any old hide-out will do.

Before his arrest this month, Emilio Lozoya, once the head of the Mexican oil giant Pemex, remained out of sight at La Zagaleta, one of the world’s most exclusive residential compounds. An estate of more than 2,000 plush acres, it includes two golf courses, and is nestled along Spain’s southern coast near Marbella.

Mr. Lozoya had been on the run since last May, trying to evade the Mexican authorities, who accuse him of fraud and bribery while he ran Pemex and who now want to see him extradited from Spain.

The former executive denies any wrongdoing. His choice of hideaway is no doubt a measure of the power he long wielded at the helm of a company whose tax payments have been funding one fifth’s of Mexico’s federal budget.

Once the playground of Adnan Khashoggi, a Saudi business executive and arms dealer, La Zagaleta is no hole in the wall. And it is not for everyone. But if you are rich enough, it might well make a perfect place for someone who wants to remain far out of sight.

Discretion is prized on the estate, particularly among employees, who are strictly forbidden to talk about its 230 homeowners or their guests.

La Zagaleta is patrolled round the clock by guards and has fences with infrared sensors, which make it a place where “safety, security and five-star facilities combine,” according to its promotional brochure.

“We’re talking about a luxury compound that attracts the rich and famous by guaranteeing them full confidentiality,” said Martin Palladino, a lawyer and professor at the I.S.D.E. law school in Madrid.

At the same time, Mr. Palladino said, “a very wealthy person is used to maintaining very high living standards and is obviously not going to want to hide in the woods.”

Mr. Lozoya’s arrest amounted to precisely the kind of unwanted attention that La Zagaleta’s very wealthy residents would normally hope to avoid.

It’s unclear how long the former boss of Pemex spent in La Zagaleta, or who might have invited him into one of its scattered villas.

The estate said in a statement that Mr. Lozoya was never registered under his real name, nor under the one he was using as an alias at the time of his arrest — Jonathan Solís Fuentes.

But La Zagaleta does not require its residents to share any information about their guests — “not only out of respect and discretion, but also because they are entering their home,” said Sergio Azcona, the estate’s spokesman.

Using Pemex’s ties to the Russian energy sector, Mr. Lozoya first sought refuge in Russia before landing in Spain, according to the Mexican media.

In a statement, the Spanish police said that he was found in the southern province of Málaga in early 2020, following an investigation that involved “excellent collaboration” with Mexican prosecutors.

La Zagaleta overlooks a stretch of Málaga’s coastline that is known as the Costa del Sol. The area has led Spain’s tourism boom since the 1950s, when Hollywood stars started to vacation there.

But the Costa has also been tainted by an influx of gangsters, some of whom have settled their scores violently in the Spanish sunshine, including another recent round of killings.

La Zagaleta, however, has no such history of crime. Mr. Azcona, its spokesman, stressed that Mr. Lozoya was apprehended after he had left the estate by car.

During his 13 years in his job, Mr. Azcona said, he could not recall an incident that had required the police to intervene within La Zagaleta.

Before La Zagaleta became a very discreet home for the wealthy, it was owned by Mr. Khashoggi, the Saudi billionaire, who split his time between his estate and his luxurious yacht, the Nabila, moored in the nearby marina of Puerto Banús.

In La Zagaleta’s clubhouse, deer head trophies serve as a reminder that Mr. Khashoggi once enjoyed hunting on his grounds.

But following his detention and extradition to the United States in 1989, Mr. Khashoggi, who helped finance an arms shipment in the Iran-Contra affair and died in London in 2017, lost not only his influence but also his fortune.

His yacht was eventually acquired by Donald J. Trump and renamed Trump Princess.

At the same time, his estate was taken over by a group of investors led by a Spaniard, Enrique Pérez Flores, and carved up into 420 separate and very exclusive plots for sale to wealthy individuals, particular sun-seekers from colder parts of Europe.

For his luxury compound project, Mr. Pérez Flores in part tapped into his network of powerful financiers, dating back to his banking years in Zurich, where he started working in 1960.

Rainer Gut, the Swiss former chairman of Credit Suisse and Nestlé, was among the early investors in La Zagaleta. Oswald Grübel, a former chief executive of UBS, another big Swiss bank, took over the presidency of the compound’s holding company from Mr. Pérez Flores in 2013.

For all its privacy, La Zagaleta continues to search for more buyers. Dozens of plots remain available for construction. There are also several houses for sale, built to designs that reflect the contrasting tastes of their original owners.

Among them, is a house built by a Russian investor that has an indoor shooting range and a waterfall, as well as an artificial snow room next to its sauna. He wanted a rooftop discothèque with laser lights, but neighbors forced him to keep his music and party area indoors.

Still, it can be yours for a mere $35 million, give or take a few.

La Zagaleta also has some rental activity, since most owners do not live in Spain year-round and some are keen to let others use their houses, if they can afford it.

In 2018, Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese soccer star, spent a vacation in La Zagaleta, during which his partner seemed happy to ignore La Zagaleta’s emphasis on discretion by posting about her horse riding activities on social media.

Under Spanish law, only a judge, rather than a landlord, can ask to see a tenant’s criminal record.

But Mr. Palladino, the lawyer, said that it was surprising that La Zagaleta fully trusted its owners to vouch for the credentials of their visitors.

“Anybody entering,’’ he said, ‘‘could potentially present a security risk for others inside.”


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