At the beginning of the 21st century, everyone wanted a house on the Costa del Sol. The demand was immense, the land was scarce and many people saw in the real estate market a way to get gold quickly. The promoters emerged like mushrooms and among all of them one reigned: Aifos. He sold thousands of homes on the Malaga coastline, but also in other parts of Spain. Its best moment came in 2005 when it reached 346 million euros in turnover – the third largest company in Malaga and one of the main real estate companies in the country – and more than 2,500 employees. Four years later, with just 150 workers, the company filed a voluntary bankruptcy with a debt that was close to one billion euros and 3,000 houses sold unfinished. Today its former owners, Jesús Ruiz Casado and Teresa Maldonado, are the individuals who owe the most to the Treasury. Between the two they add up to more than 31 million euros. His company, Aifos, is the sixth company that owes the most: 93.3 million.
Born in Ágreda (Soria, 3,001 inhabitants) in a humble family and trained as an industrial engineer in Zaragoza, Ruiz Casado passed through the National Institute of Industry in Madrid, where he met his wife, Teresa Maldonado, from Malaga. He arrived in Malaga in the early nineties and started a small business owned by his partner’s family, Promociones González-Gil. In 1998, he brought all his real estate activity into it and transformed it into Aifos, which took its name from that of his daughter Sofía, but in reverse. The firm – which he shared in ownership with his wife, who also owned several clothing stores under the Guapa trademark – grew in the heat of the real estate boom.
His personality facilitated his growth: with a gift for people, he knew how to handle himself in a close relationship. He always had a great capacity for persuasion. “He is capable of convincing anyone of whatever,” say sources who have dealt with him frequently. “He is a snake charmer”, as former collaborators define him. “He’s very smart,” they say from the construction sector.
Aifos made the leap to other Andalusian provinces, to Madrid and Zaragoza, where he created Construcciones Ziur. In the early 2000s, it sponsored events promoted by the Malaga City Council, such as the Mediterranean Real Estate Exhibition (Simed) or the film festival, and gave money to the local media. The banks chased him while he gave gifts to judges, notaries and politicians, who always kept the doors of their offices open for him.
He linked his real estate promotions to names like Julio Iglesias or Mariah Carey. From Malaga he opened delegations in different parts of Spain and cities such as London or Hamburg in Europe. Many foreign citizens relied on their promises in the form of homes to land on the Costa del Sol, where Aifos was building at a rate of 3,000 properties a year. He also built the luxury hotel Guadalpin. The plan was to go public: industry sources say that the company was valued at 3,000 million euros. But while everything shone in the face of the gallery, the company was accumulating complaints, although it emerged unscathed from all of them or reached agreements with the complainants.
Convicted in the ‘Malaya case’
Sources in the real estate sector agree on the cause of the fall: “They grew too fast. They covered much more than they could and when the first floors failed, everything was in a chain ”, explains a person linked to construction in Malaga for more than two decades. At that time, it was common to sell off-plan homes at reasonable prices for the Costa del Sol, which people could afford. The demand was enormous.
According to different sources, the money that the buyers gave on account of the future home was used by Aifos to acquire new land to build. Sometimes they were in remote areas, other times they built on land without a license or that was not directly developable and needed requalification. “And while there were already people litigating because they did not give them their homes, they continued to sell,” says lawyer Carlos Comitre. There are still thousands of floors without finishing or, directly, without starting. “And those that were delivered are famous for their lack of quality,” emphasizes Comitre.
This lawyer recalls that his first clients were a Danish couple to whom they never gave the townhouse they acquired and camped for two years in the place where the house was to be built. Since then, more than 5,000 people have been affected by the economic troubles in Aifos, which had a turning point in the summer of 2006. Ruiz Casado was then arrested in Operation Malaya. He shared the dock with Isabel Pantoja and Julián Muñoz and was sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of 2.2 million euros, although the Supreme Court reduced the sentence to one year. He spent a week in prison. Later he was convicted by the Provincial Court of Malaga for having kept the money delivered by several buyers, although the Supreme Court acquitted him in 2018.
At the end of 2014 the company went into liquidation. It has assets valued at almost 800 million euros and an important land portfolio, but a good part of its real estate developments are unfinished, others seized by banks or in the hands of the Company for the Management of Assets from Bank Restructuring ( Sareb).
Most of his creditors – also gathered on a platform of affected parties – are people who paid an average of 50,000 euros for homes they never received, although there are also banks. Those who have managed to get their money back have done so through judgments that precisely condemned banks to pay the amounts to be endorsed or received without the mandatory endorsement of these figures. Most of them will probably never see the money they gave for their supposed home again.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.