Costa del Sol News - 27th April 2006

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Week April 27th to May 3rd 2006

Overseas revellers to cough up

Stag-night party revellers to pay for consulate bail-outs

By Oliver McIntyre

BRITONS WHO GET INTO TROUBLE WHEN TRAVELLING TO SPAIN FOR STAG-NIGHT PARTIES COULD SOON HAVE TO PAY FOR HELP PROVIDED BY BRITISH CONSULATES.

In a recent report, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) urged the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to begin charging for services provided to Britons abroad ‘who have been clearly negligent or otherwise at fault’. The recommendation comes as overseas stag and hen parties have become increasingly popular, with Spain as the top destination. Typical calls for help from such revellers – or from the local police officers who call the consulate on their behalf – are due to lost or stolen money, illness or injury, and arrests for drunk and disorderly conduct.

“Consulates already do charge fees in a number of situations, such as after-hours services,” James Birkett, a spokesperson for the British Embassy in Madrid, told Costa del Sol News. “It appears the [PAC] recommendation is to take this further.”

SPAIN TOP DESTINATION
British consulates charged for assistance in just 323 of the 84,000 overall cases they handled last year, according to the PAC report. It says that charging for services rendered to revellers who get into trouble while intoxicated or otherwise out of control is perfectly justified and would go a long way toward defraying consular costs. The official call-out rate for diplomatic assistance – in those instances when it is charged – is £84.50 an hour.

“FCO consular staff increasingly has to deal with the appalling results of British tourists carousing abroad, and especially in the case of Spain which is their favourite destination”, said PAC Chairman MP Edward Leigh. “The Department should get a clearer idea of the effectiveness of its publicity aimed at improving the behaviour of the groups who most often end up needing help, such as stag and hen parties. Where our nationals have landed themselves in trouble as a result of their own irresponsibility, the FCO should not hesitate to charge them for its services.”

ISSUE DISCUSSED IN PARLIAMENT
So far, there has been no formal change in consular policy regarding charging for assistance, according to Mr Birkett of the Madrid Embassy. The issue “is being discussed at the Parliamentary level,” he said. “We’ll apply whatever policy the Parliament decides.”


Julian Muñoz faces jail

The former Marbella Mayor could be responsible for nearly 100 town planning offences

By David Eade

THE FORMER MAYOR OF MARBELLA, JULIÁN MUÑOZ, IS SCHEDULED TO GO TO PRISON THIS WEEK.

That is the decision reached on Monday by the Málaga penal court that has decreed that Sr Muñoz and six councillors should be imprisoned over their part in the ‘Banana Beach’ town planning case.

The actual offence dates back to September 9, 1998, when a commission of Marbella council gave permission for a building licence to be issued on land zoned as non-urban at Banana Beach. In the event three apartment blocks were constructed on the site with 238 dwellings. Now Julián Muñoz faces jail and one of the six councillors who should be jailed with him is Juan Antonio Yagüe, brother of his successor, former mayor Marisol Yagüe. The seven accused have lodged appeals before the provincial and the constitutional courts but these will not prevent their imprisonment.

The judge trying the case has opted to jail Sr Muñoz because of the number of alleged town planning offences he faces before the courts. These total nearly 100 and therefore the court takes the view that the ‘Banana Beach’ case cannot be viewed as an isolated offence. Meanwhile the Andalucía High Court (TSJA) has ratified the sentence passed against the former spokesperson of the Partido Andalucista, Carlos Fernández. He was forced to resign from his post as deputy mayor under the administration led by Marisol Yagüe.

Sr Fernández was found guilty by the provincial court of misappropriation of municipal funds. The offence relates to the GIL era at Marbella town hall when Sr Fernández was a councillor for that party and responsible for sport. He was sentenced by the court to two years in jail and three years disqualification of holding public office.

If both Muñoz and Fernández do make it to Alhaurín de la Torre prison they could join the accused in ‘Operation Malaya’ case that is investigating corruption at Marbella town hall. They include the former mayor, Marisol Yagüe, deputy mayor Isabel García Marcos, town planning adviser Juan Antonio Roca, amongst others.

NEW BROOMS FOR MARBELLA
The president of the commission, which is to manage Marbella town hall until the 2007 elections, is PSOE’s Diego Martín Reyes. The 53 year-old lawyer will work alongside 15 other members of the commission drawn from the main four political parties. He sees the task facing the commission members as ‘new brooms sweep clean’ observing their duties are to “clean up the town hall, lifting carpets, opening windows so that light and fresh air can come in, cleaning away any dirt we may find and getting rid of it forever”.


Almuñécar hotel closed in Legionnaires’ outbreak

By Dave Jamieson

An outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease has closed an hotel in Almuñécar. At least 15 people are reported to have be infected, all of them members of a group from Cataluña holidaying in the town.

They spent the period from March 25 to April 12 at the La Najarra Hotel, and health authorities are presently continuing their investigation into whether the infection was to blame for the death of a man on April 13. The first evidence of the problem came on March 25 when a 77 year old woman showed symptoms but did not require to be admitted to hospital. Most of the others who have contracted the disease are now in hospital in and around Barcelona, but with an incubation period of ten days for the disease, experts are not ruling out further cases.

Health inspectors visited the suspect hotel last Thursday and took water samples from various areas, including an ornamental fountain. Tests later proved positive for the bacterium. As soon as the outbreak was notified, the hotel was closed and the management found alternative accommodation for their clients.

In the summer of 1991, an outbreak at Almuñécar’s Hotel Helios affected 91 people, and was eventually traced to the building’s air conditioning system. The local hotel trade is now fearing that latest events could have the same serious level of repercussions on their business as was experienced 15 years ago.

Legionnaires’ disease is an acute respiratory infection caused by the bacterium Legionella pneumophila, which can cause a broad spectrum of disease from mild cough and fever to a serious pneumonia. The name was coined in 1976 after a respiratory disease affected many delegates attending a convention in Philadelphia held by the American Legion of Pennsylvania.


Mijas extends tax-discount period

NEWS Staff Reporter

Mijas Town Hall has extended until June 2 the period during which it will provide taxpayers a four per cent discount on their IBI real estate tax. Normally the Town Hall offers discounted rates on local taxes only during the first months of the year, but this year the IBI bills went out later than usual so the early-payment deadline has been extended.

Those who do not make their IBI payments by June 2 will still have an opportunity to receive a slightly discounted rate. For payments made between June 3 and July 31, the Town Hall will offer a two per cent discount. Between August 1 and the IBI tax deadline of November 20, no discount will be offered.

Municipal officials expect to collect around 17.5m euros in IBI taxes this year, not including 4,000 newly registered properties in the town. They estimate that 33 per cent of all IBI taxes will be received via automatic direct-payment orders set up by taxpayers in their bank accounts. The Town Hall’s Tax Department encourages the use of this type of automatic payment system, as both a convenience and as “the best way to ensure the maximum discount” on tax payments.


Slowing Málaga's speeders

As city offers traffic solutions, Mijas residents can’t get action

By Dave Jamieson and Oliver McIntyre

PEOPLE LIVING IN THE CITY OF MÁLAGA WILL SOON BE ABLE TO ASK THE TOWN HALL TO INSTALL TRAFFIC-CALMING DEVICES IN RESIDENTIAL AREAS.

A new by-law which aims to reduce the speed of vehicles is likely to become effective in about two months, and is believed to be the first of its kind in the country.

The legislation defines three groups of measures to tackle speeding problems. The first includes changes to the carriageway, such as the use of mini-roundabouts, the reappraisal of T-junctions and alterations to parking arrangements. The second includes modifications to the roadway, including the introduction of cobbled sections and sound bars on the surface, while the third includes the construction of traffic islands running parallel to the traffic flow, in order to reduce the width of the carriageways.

The councillor responsible, Javier Berlanga, said he hoped the process would be simple and should start with a request from residents for Tráfico technicians to inspect the area. Although they would not be able to help in every case, he added, the solution should meet the majority of needs.

UNSAFE IN MIJAS
Meanwhile, residents of one Mijas urbanisation only wish they had access to such traffic measures. They were witness earlier this week to yet another accident on a local road that they have long been complaining is unsafe.

“For the past four years I have been trying to get Mijas Town Hall to install some speed calmers on this road, which leads from the old N-340 behind El Zoco to the toll motorway,” said Englishman Peter Aumord, president of the Las Casitas de Calahonda homeowners’ association. “The Town Hall gave us permission to install the requested devices [at our own expense], even though they had been told that the road is a through road and is used by everyone, even heavy plant vehicles.”

The accident on Monday morning of this week was the third on the road so far this year, Mr Aumord told Costa del Sol News. Over the last few years he has counted well over a dozen accidents along the same stretch.

Mr Aumord says that residents of Las Casitas want the Town Hall to take action to improve safety on the road. “And if they are not responsible for the maintenance, why don’t they contact the authority concerned?” he asks. “Are they waiting for someone to be killed?”


Four Britons arrested in Marbella

By David Eade

The National Police have arrested four Britons in Marbella in two separate cases. The first saw two men, aged 33 and 41, arrested for illegal possession of a weapon. They were arrested at the Atalaya Río Verde urbanisation after a National Police officer spotted one of the men crouched between two cars with a pistol in his hand. The other man was nearby and when they saw the police they both tried to flee the scene, the man with the pistol dropping it on the grass, according to the police. It was later found to be loaded, with a bullet in the chamber and the safety off. Police are still investigating what the men were doing when they were spotted. In the second case, two young Britons, both 25, were arrested after obtaining a large amount of cash from a bank using ‘cloned’ credit cards. The credit cards were mostly copies of cards whose owners were Britons. The two were arrested after being detected carrying out a fraudulent transaction at the Sol Bank in Marbella. Police found more than 62,000 euros in cash at their luxury hotel in the resort.


Ronda’s controversial golf course

By David Eade

Ecologists and residents have been given fresh hope that the Los Merinos golf course in Ronda may yet be stopped. The regional government has made it clear that it will order a halt to the construction project unless both the developer and town hall meets its strict requirements.

Objections to the golf and luxury residential project have been loud as the environmental groups and residents, especially of Cuevas del Becerro, have opposed the scheme fearing that it will deplete the water reserves. Nonetheless in March the Mayor of Ronda, Antonio María Marín Lara, proclaimed that the two golf courses, 785 luxury villas and three five-star hotels would proceed. He stated they had been approved by decree and hence could not be appealed against.

It has since emerged that the water resource agency, Cuenca Mediterránea Andaluza, has since ruled that Los Merinos Norte is not viable because of water supply problems. The wells on the site that supply 10,000 local residents cannot be used hence the developers would have to use Ronda’s mains water supply. The water authorities have not received any application from the developers to date and have not given any authorisation.

The regional government admits that the project on the 1000-hectare site is legal under the local development plan that dates back to 1994. The scheme also received a positive environmental report 13 years ago. However, the provincial environment delegate, Ignacio Trillo, is of the opinion that no work should start until the water supply problem is resolved. He added that the works to date could have caused irrevocable damage to the local flora.


Nerja residents upset over death of horse

Capistrano residents further outraged by Guardia Civil attitude

By Dave Jamieson

NERJA’S GUARDIA CIVIL HAVE TOLD RESIDENTS THAT THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR DISPOSING OF A HORSE, KILLED BY POISON, WAS THEIRS.

The animal was one of two which lived at the foot of the San Juan de Capistrano urbanisation and was popular with tourists and local people who fed them. A member of the town’s Donkey Sanctuary, Irene Ward, lives near their field and said that the horses’ friendliness would have made it easy for an individual to poison them. Despite treatment from a local vet, the female of the pair suffered a horrible and painful death after eating the fatal substance.

EXPAT REACTION
“That was traumatic enough,” Irene said, “but on calling out the Guardia Civil, we were informed that it was our responsibility to bury her where she lay, or pay for them to arrange for the body to be disposed of, even though it was not our horse or our land. With that they left us with a dead horse in the middle of our urbanisation.”

However, the vet again helped out and the corpse was removed by a lorry.

“The annoying thing is the person who poisoned her will probably not be prosecuted” added Irene. “The male horse who survived the attack now constantly calls for his mate. They had been together for a long time and he does not understand why she has gone. Neither do we.”


Quarry-restoration plan ‘insufficient’

By Oliver McIntyre

Alhaurín de la Torre Town Hall is not satisfied with the level of detail laid out in the draft quarries-restoration plan submitted by the town’s quarry companies. The plan, which is a principal element of the quarry agreement reached in January to put an end to the quarry workers’ strike, was submitted by the companies earlier this month.

Mayor Joaquín Villanova stated that the Town Hall will request more details regarding the exact restoration timeline before accepting the plan. As submitted, it lacks a concrete definition of the different phases of work that will be carried out and the “exact dates when restoration and reforestation” measures will take place, he said. The Town Hall wants the document to specify “the area that will be restored and reforested each year.” The draft plan includes an accounting of the number and types of trees to be used, but not a timeline for their planting, said the mayor.

The plan addresses the four quarries that were previously shut down by Andalucía High Court order due to licensing issues but were allowed to reopen following the January quarry agreement. The agreement allowed them to restart work only on screening and treating existing stockpiles of materials until the establishment of a quarries-restoration plan. Once the plan is approved by the Junta de Andalucía and the Town Hall, the companies will begin a seven-year restoration period (extendable to 10 years), during which materials extracted as part of the restoration work can be treated and sold.

Mayor Villanova expects that the process of finalising the plan and having it approved by the Town Hall and the Junta will last several months. Actual restoration work is not likely to begin before October of this year, he said.


Mijas hospital offers interpreter services

NEWS Staff Reporter

The Mijas Foreigners' Department has added the town's CARE hospital to the list of medical facilities at which it provides foreign patients free interpreting services through its volunteer-interpreter programme. There are now 11 volunteers providing the service at the CARE (Centro de Alta Resolución de Especialidades), according to Foreigners' Department officials. The service is available in multiple languages; one of the volunteers at the CARE speaks six different languages and most of the others speak more than two each.

The department launched the volunteer-interpreter programme 10 years ago. It counts on volunteers of different nationalities to provide interpreting for non-Spanish-speaking patients when they go to the doctor. There are currently 24 volunteers working in the programme, providing service to foreign patients at the La Cala, Las Lagunas and Mijas Pueblo health centres, and now at the CARE hospital.


Nerja golf course hits another bunker

Junta de Andalucía declares land “public zone”

By Dave Jamieson

THE LONG AND TORTUOUS HISTORY OF NERJA’S PROMISED GOLF COURSE HAS TAKEN YET ANOTHER TWIST WITH THE AREA ON WHICH IT IS TO BE BUILT BEING DECLARED A PUBLIC ZONE.

The news came from the provincial delegation of public works which advised that the Axarquía’s POT (Plan de Ordenación del Territorio) shows the Barranco de La Coladilla as a green area, and therefore unable to be used for the course’s construction.

Not surprisingly, Nerja’s Mayor, José Alberto Armijo, declared himself “concerned” and asked for an urgent meeting with the Junta de Andalucía ‘s councillor for public works, Concepcíon Gutiérrez. At a press conference, he pointed out that Nerja’s local development plan (the PGOU), which includes the planned golf course, has already been approved by the Junta , and that the land on which it would be constructed was purchased by the developer, MedGroup, two years ago with the Junta’s authorisation.

MedGroup, 90 per cent owned by George Soros who is best-known for making $1 billion dollars after the collapse of the British pound in 1992, is understood to be investing 165 million euros in the first phase of the development, close to the Nerja Caves complex. Mayor Armijo said that the change of use of the land could have grave consequences for MedGroup as well as for the future development of Nerja.

Reaction in the town came swiftly. Speaking for the local Partido Andalucista, Paco Navas said it could create alarm, while Alfons Mettel, president of Nerja’s urbanisation communities group APCUN, confessed to being “totally surprised” and that it was “impossible to understand the change in the attitude of the Junta” after five years. Iván Jullit of Nerja’s Business Association described the news as very serious.

MEDGROUP’S PROJECTS
When MedGroup signed a 15 million euro deal with Nerja Town in October 2004, it was believed to be the final step towards establishing an 18-hole golf course in the municipality. A four-star luxury hotel, tourist and residential accommodation, and public leisure facilities are included in the plans which, it is estimated, will create around 400 direct jobs plus many other indirect jobs. However, it is not the first problem which the developers have experienced with the Junta de Andalucía: a month before the signing, MedGroup almost pulled out of the project, citing “irreconcilable differences” with the regional government. But when the deal was finally done, top class golf in Nerja was promised in just over three years. 18 months on, that guarantee seems under serious threat.


Real costs of fruit and veg

News Staff Reporter

More than 6,000 kilos of locally grown fruit and vegetables were given away in Jerez’s Plaza de las Angustias in a special market created by farming and consumer associations to highlight the massive mark-up on prices which has occurred by the time the produce reaches the shop counters. For the symbolic payment of one euro – which will be donated to charity by the organisers – local people were able to take home bags of strawberries, cauliflowers, carrots, onions, artichokes and courgettes, among other items, as well as bunches of flowers from Chipiona.

The event was organised by the COAG agrarian association and the UCA and Al Andalus consumers association, to make people aware of the difference between the price paid to growers and the price paid by consumers. A difference that can reach as much as 1,738 per cent for lemons, 1,575 per cent for broad beans, 1,240 per cent for clementine oranges, 620 per cent for cauliflower, 216 per cent for potatoes, 377 per cent for avocados and 446 per cent for aubergines. Even tomatoes are said to cost shoppers 86 per cent more than their growers are paid for the crop. Other farm products are also affected by massive mark-ups: more than 300 per cent on beef and pork, over 400 per cent for honey and over 200 per cent for a dozen eggs.

The COAG is calling for ‘double-labels’ to be put on fruit and veg, giving not only details of the type of produce and where it is grown, but also showing the price paid to the farmers so shoppers can see for themselves the increase placed on such products by intermediaries and distribution chains.


Andalucia new statute controversy

Draft document defines region as “national reality”

By Dave Jamieson

THE “NATIONAL REALITY” OF ANDALUCÍA HAS BEEN DEFINED IN THE BID TO GAIN GREATER REGIONAL CONTROLS.

Following Cataluña’s move to wrest more autonomy from Madrid, Andalucía is about to follow suit, and the ruling PSOE party in Sevilla has decided to copy the Catalan model for the new Andalucían statute, currently being debated in the regional parliament.

Cataluña’s 52-page charter was published last September after weeks of heated debate and immediately caused controversy by stating in its first article that “Cataluña is a nation in a nation of nations”. Now, the preamble to the Andalucían statute appears to have adopted the same approach by incorporating the definition of a “national reality”, stating that Article Two of the country’s constitution “recognises the national reality of Andalucía as a nationality.”

The draft document has further similarities with Cataluña’s. The division of power between Madrid and Sevilla has become controversial thanks to changes which the PSOE has introduced into the original wording. In particular, press reports suggest that a sentence from Article One referring to the “indivisibility of the Spanish nation” has been dropped. The people of the region would also be subject to a different set of duties and rights than those established in the constitution for the whole of Spain, similar to Cataluña’s demands, while Andalucía would also have its own Judicial Council and prosecutors’ office. However, in the area of finance there exists an important difference between the regions, since, while Cataluña is a net contributor to central funds, Andalucía is a net receiver of cash from Madrid.

PARLIAMENT DEBATE IN MAY
The document was approved by a regional parliamentary commission after a ten-hour debate during which the term “national reality” was rejected by both the Partido Popular (PP) and the Partido Andalucista. The regional PP leader, Javier Arenas, says he is opposed to a document which he feels will divide the Andalucían people, while the party’s national leader, Mariano Rajoy, has described the term as “a joke”. However, the votes of the PSOE socialists and the left-wing coalition Izquierda Unida pushed through the draft which will now go on to be debated in the main chamber of parliament in Sevilla next Tuesday, May 2.


Gary Lineker’s brother jailed for fraud

By David Eade

This week Wayne Lineker, the millionaire brother of former England soccer captain and now TV pundit Gary, was jailed for two and a half years. The international sports bar owner was found guilty at London’s Southwark Crown Court of smuggling cash in to Britain over an 18-month period via a tried and tested money mule system using innocent family and friends.

At one time Wayne was considered to be a better soccer prospect than Gary but instead ran a market stall in Leicester. However in 1988 he moved to Tenerife and with Gary’s blessing cashed in on the name of the England striker who also played for Barcelona.

He first opened the famous Lineker’s Bar in Tenerife on the Playa de las Americas.

Subsequently he opened other Lineker’s bars elsewhere in the Canary Islands, mainland Spain, Portugal and Cyprus. Each bar was packed with soccer memorabilia and was popular with players and fans.

In court Wayne Lineker was accused of bringing in bundles of pesetas and escudos that were laundered in to sterling leading to a loss of 90,000 pounds plus interest. He admitted one count of conspiracy to defraud the Inland Revenue from 1999 to 2001. Lineker will face another 24 months in jail if he doesn’t repay the 90,000 pounds confiscation order.

 

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