Costa del Sol News - 5th October 2006

News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol

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The Costa del Sol weekly newspaper, on sale at newsagents.

Week 5th October - 11th October 2006

MORTGAGED TO THE MAX

Climbing Euribor hits homeowners and threatens economy

By Oliver McIntyre

THE EURIBOR INTEREST-RATE INDEX CLOSED SEPTEMBER AT 3.715 PER CENT, MARKING THE TWELFTH CONSECUTIVE MONTH OF RISING RATES AND THE BIGGEST YEAR-ON-YEAR INCREASE IN SIX YEARS, A SITUATION THAT WILL HIT MORTGAGE-HOLDERS AND POSES A THREAT TO SPAIN’S ECONOMY.
The vast majority of mortgage loans in Spain are currently variable-rate, meaning the immediate result of rising interest rates is a jump in mortgage payments. Practically all holders of variable-rate loans are seeing increases in their monthly payments. For those whose rate is based on the September Euribor, a typical 20-year, 120,000-euro loan will see a jump of about 89.70 euros, or nearly 1,100 euros a year.

WIDESPREAD EFFECTS
The effect of rising interest rates on individual mortgage-holders can have serious implications. Recent Bank of Spain figures put Spanish household debt – mostly mortgage loans – at nearly 120 per cent of disposable income. And just this week the European Commission issued a warning that family debt in some EU countries – with Spain near the top of the list – is “unsustainable.”
The EC cautioned that economic growth could be at risk in the event of a sharp drop in real estate prices in countries where high household debt is combined with inflated real estate prices. Spain, which in recent years has experienced a red-hot housing boom, is currently considered to have some of the most overvalued property in the world.
While the September Euribor figure is just 0.1 points higher than the August rate, it is up 1.496 points from the September 2005 rate of 2.219.
The Euribor has not seen such a large year-on-year leap since the period between May 1999 and May 2000, when the rate shot up more than 80 per cent, climbing 2.166 points from 2.682 per cent to 4.848 per cent.

RATES TO GO HIGHER
Following the last 12 months climb, the Euribor currently sits at its highest rate since June 2002. Experts expect it to keep rising at least until the end of the year, as it is widely assumed that the European Central Bank will continue increasing its official interest rate. Analysts predict the ECB will raise the rate again, possibly twice, before year end, bringing it to 3.25 or even 3.5 per cent.


Britons arrested in timeshare scam

Non-existent holiday apartments rented to unsuspecting foreigners

By David Eade

POLICE IN FUENGIROLA HAVE ARRESTED FIVE PEOPLE, SOME OF THEM BRITISH, FOR ALLEGED INVOLVEMENT IN WHAT OFFICIALS DESCRIBED AS AN IMPORTANT TIMESHARE FRAUD OPERATION.
The arrests came after investigations into the activities of a group of foreigners, the majority of them believed to be British, revealed them to be carrying out a scam under the guise of a timeshare rental business, say police.
It is understood that the fraud involved renting non-existent properties to non-Spaniards for large sums of money. Officials say this type of fraud – the same property being rented to a large number of people at the same time or the renting of apartments that do not exist – is not uncommon along the coast.
The police believe the five people arrested are the majority of those involved in the Fuengirola operation, although others could still be at large. Officers searched their homes and seized documentation and other evidence related to the alleged fraud. The police have also indicated that some of those arrested have previous convictions for this type of fraud or other offences. No total has been given for the amount of money scammed by the gang but it is believed to be considerable.

FOREIGN VICTIMS
Many foreigners are believed to have been caught out, and some are not even aware of it until they show up looking for the non-existent apartment they rented, in some cases for a month or more.The National Police have previously uncovered other gangs operating this type of scam, based in both Fuengirola and Mijas. In May they broke up a network in Fuengirola that allegedly used bogus timeshare offers to defraud 15,000 tourists for a total of 18 million euros.


Sixteen held at gunpoint in Churriana heist

By Oliver McIntyre

Customers and staff at a tobacconist in Churriana lived through a harrowing experience on Saturday when four armed robbers entered the shop and held 16 people on the floor at gunpoint while plundering 54,000 euros in cash and merchandise.
At 13.20 two of the intruders entered the shop and set on the clerk behind the counter, holding a gun to his head and taking him into a back room, where they hit him with a pistol and tied him up, according to witness reports. Then the second two thieves entered the shop, and at about the same time, a 50-year-old woman came in to make a purchase. She too was tied up in the back room and the thieves took her gold watch and money.
More shop employees, who had been downstairs in an office area, were discovered by the thieves and ordered to lie on the floor, and every time new customers came into the shop, they were added to the group. In all, 11 customers and five workers were held on the floor and guarded by one of the thieves while the others carried out the robbery.
According to the shop owners, the thieves, who wore hats and sunglasses and spoke with South American accents, made off with four sacks of coins containing 2,000 euros each, numerous stacks of bills, 150 mobile-phone cards, 120 lottery tickets and other items. Video footage from the shop’s security cameras, which captured much of the incident, is being used by police in their investigation.


Inmates sell pictures of Muñoz and Roca

By David Eade

PRISON OFFICERS AT ALHAURÍN DE LA TORRE JAIL HAVE BROKEN UP A GANG OF INMATES WHO HAVE BEEN SELLING IMAGES FROM THEIR CELLS OF THOSE HELD IN THE OPERATION MALAYA CASE.
Amongst their key targets were former Marbella mayor, Julián Muñoz, and the alleged mastermind behind the corruption, Juan Antonio Roca.
Prison sources say that a judge is now investigating the claims and will decide whether the three inmates earned money from the illegal sale of photographs of their fellow prisoners. It is understood that the matter was reported to prison staff by other inmates.
Amongst the claims is that those involved have received up to 60,000 euros from the sale of videos for inclusion in a television programme. It is understood that both Roca and Muñoz were the prime targets although both are held in different parts of the prison. While the investigations continue the three culprits are banned from leaving jail, a similar restriction to that imposed on drugs case criminals.

MUÑOZ TO STAY IN JAIL
Whatever happens in the Operation Malaya case Julián Muñoz will remain in prison. A court has upheld a one-year sentence imposed on the former mayor of Marbella last October in the Proinsa town planning case. He had sought a pardon in order to avoid another jail sentence of six months and an eight-year ban from public office in connection with the Banana Beach case. He has also been sentenced to two years in jail by the Public Auditing body.
Under Spanish law he remained free while his application for a pardon was considered, but the decision to imprison him on suspicion of corruption in the police operation ‘Malaya’ meant that he had to spend time behind bars. He will have to stay there even if granted bail for the ‘Malaya’ case and he still faces more than 40 town planning cases as well as other court actions.


Nerja rail plan ‘abandoned’, says mayor

By Dave Jamieson

Nerja’s mayor says plans for a rail service to his town have been “abandoned” by the regional government. José Alberto Armijo called for the project to be reactivated following news that Vélez-Málaga’s new light-transport system, the tranvía, is likely to be extended west as far as Rincón de la Victoria. He said that Nerja as well as municipalities such as Torrox and Algarrobo need a similar transport link and expressed surprise that these other towns’ mayors are not also pushing for action.
Mayor Armijo called on the region’s politicians and business community to support the eastern rail project, which he said was announced “with a lot of hype” by the president of the Junta de Andalucía, Manuel Chaves, in 2003.
The mayor also took the opportunity to question comments by the Junta’s councillor for public works, Concepción Gutiérrez, on the marina planned for the Axarquía. He quoted her as describing it as “super-municipal,” a term he said that no one at the town hall understood. The marina is the responsibility of the Junta, and in particular of its Public Ports Authority (EPPA), he said.The mayor is also pressing the Junta to make urgent repairs to the Águila aqueduct at Maro. The Larios company handed the 19th-century structure over the Nerja town hall some time ago, with a 610,000-euro restoration programme promised by the regional government. Sr Armijo says he has heard nothing from the Junta’s Cultural Department on the matter and has asked for prompt action to put a halt to further deterioration.


Nearly 100,000 foreign residents could vote

NEWS Staff Reporter

In Málaga province there are 96,047 EU-citizen foreign residents who are registered (‘empadronado’) with their local town hall and thus have the right to vote in next May’s municipal elections.
However, in order to vote, foreign residents on the municipal census must first register as voters by signing up on the electoral roll. In Málaga, 21,408 foreign residents have already done this. Those who registered as voters in previous elections do not have to repeat the process. They remain registered and are eligible to vote in the May 27, 2007 municipal elections.
The Electoral Roll office is sending registration information, translated into English, German and French, to all ‘empadronado’ foreign residents who are not yet registered to vote. The packet includes a voter registration form that can be completed and mailed in.
Those wanting to register to vote can also do so at their local town hall. If they are not already on the town census, they can register on both the census and the electoral roll at the same time.
The only Spanish province with more ‘empadronado’ EU foreign residents than Málaga is Alicante, with 181,725, of whom 35,393 are registered to vote. Nationwide there are 892,347 ‘empadronado’ EU foreign residents, and 151,388 of them – 17 per cent – are registered to vote. Britons make up the biggest group, at 263,915 (47,679 registered to vote), followed by Germans (149,211, with 30,134 registered to vote) and Italians (111,292, with 18,428 registered to vote).


Millions allocated to solve Málaga road chaos

New ring road project to start next year

By Dave Jamieson

Seventy-four million euros are to be spent in an effort to alleviate Málaga’s chronic traffic jams. The city is undergoing major transformations with the construction of a new metro system underway, work on the AVE high speed rail service and a second ring road due to be started next year, but drivers are presently finding that everyday journeys are taking longer and longer as construction work proceeds. Every day 300,000 vehicles are estimated to use Málaga’s roads which have a capacity of 1,800 per lane per hour.The Ministry of Development has announced that funds are to be made available between now and 2009 for a number of projects which they hope will create some relief. The biggest single project is the new ring road for which 60 million euros has been earmarked, with work due to start in the new year. Improvements to the existing ring road will continue with projects such as the new slip road at La Virreina where diversions ended on Saturday, ten days earlier than scheduled (CDSN September 28-October 4). Almost 700,000 euros will be spent on two new access roads to the airport, while 2.3 million euros will go towards the second phase of the new western approach between the A-7 and the Port, due to open in 2008. The ministry is also studying proposals for a bus lane on the A-7 between Carpena and Guadalmar, as well as a third lane on the ring road between El Palo and El Limonar.


Red tide shuts down Costa fisheries

By Oliver McIntyre

The fisheries from Nerja to Calaburras Point in Mijas have been shut down to mollusc fishermen due to a red tide. It marks the third fisheries closure faced by the Costa shellfish fleet so far this year. There was a total ban in May, also due to a red tide, and a partial closure in summer when elevated coliform bacteria levels were detected.
The red tide currently being experienced is the result of a phytoplankton called Gymnodinium, which contains toxins that when ingested by some shellfish, particularly bivalves like clams, mussels and scallops, can make them unsafe for human consumption. If eaten by humans, the contaminated shellfish can cause severe illness.In addition to the closure from Nerja to Calaburras other Costa fisheries currently face partial fishing bans. In the zone from Calaburras to Sabinillas, officials have prohibited the fishing of scallops, while ‘concha fina’ clams cannot be fished in Sabinillas or Marbella. Fishermen in Estepona, Marbella and Fuengirola have been banned from catching two types of sea snails, búsano and cañaille, after they were found to contain unsafe levels of heavy metals.


Benalmádena and Mijas reduce IBI tax

Registered residents pay even less

By Oliver McIntyre

THE BENALMÁDENA COUNCIL HAS APPROVED A 10 PER CENT REDUCTION IN THE IBI PROPERTY TAX, DROPPING FROM 1 TO 0.9 THE COEFFICIENT USED TO CALCULATE THE TAX, WHICH IS BASED ON OFFICIAL (CADASTRAL) ASSESSED VALUE OF REAL ESTATE.
In addition, so-called ‘exemplary citizens’ – those residents who are registered on the census (‘empadronado’) at the town hall and are up to date on all their municipal payments – will receive a 23 per cent discount on the tax. Another five per cent discount will be given to those who pay the tax via a standing order at their bank.
“So exemplary citizens who pay by standing order will only have a 0.62 IBI coefficient,” said the town’s taxes councillor, Manuel Crespo. “The improvement of the town hall’s economic situation following the implementation of our Sustainable Investments Plan has made this reduction possible,” he said.
The lowering of the IBI coefficient was necessary to partially offset the sharp rise in assessed cadastral values, which soared last year when the values were reassessed for the first time in 16 years, explained Sr Crespo.
The opposition parties, which abstained from voting on the tax decrease, said it was insufficient and discriminatory. The reduction should be “equal for all citizens,” said the Socialist (PSOE) party, whereas the approved scheme “only benefits 9,000 citizens, with the rest discriminated against.” The Partido Popular also criticised the system as discriminatory and said the IBI reduction should be increased for all residents. The Izquierda Unida considered the IBI rate “brutal,” proposing an across-the-board reduction to 0.83. Meanwhile, neighbouring Mijas, where property taxes are already lower than in many Costa towns, has also approved an IBI cut. The coefficient will drop from its current 0.57 to 0.50, a 12 per cent decrease. In addition, those who pay via direct-payment orders or within the early-payment period receive a four per cent discount. Mijas officials highlighted the town’s low IBI rate compared to, for example, “1.1 in Torremolinos, 0.9 in Benalmádena and Marbella, 0.7 in Fuengirola and 0.8 in Rincón de la Victoria.”


El Sexmo tap water not fit to drink

NEWS Staff Reporter

Cártama town hall announced last week that tap water in El Sexmo is not fit to drink due to elevated nitrate levels in one of the wells that supplies the district.
The high nitrate levels were detected during routine testing by water company Aqualia, according to town hall officials. The law establishes a maximum nitrate level of 50 mg/l for water to be considered fit for human consumption. The level in the El Sexmo well was 72 mg/l, 44 per cent higher than the legal maximum.
Town hall officials said the elevated nitrate levels were a result of the ongoing drought in the area.
“Nitrates are salts that form part of our normal diet and that only in high doses can create problems for human beings, except in particularly vulnerable populations such as breastfeeding babies and foetuses in the womb,” said the town hall in its announcement. “We’re asking for calm [from residents], as the problem is not serious”. Officials said work will be completed shortly to allow El Sexmo’s water to be supplied by a source other than the affected well. Meanwhile, residents will continue to have running water in their homes, but it should be used for laundry, bathing, dishwashing and other activities, not for drinking. Bottled drinking water will be provided free of charge by the town hall, via Aqualia.


Sea-Life serves as refuge for unwanted pets

By Oliver McIntyre

THE SEA-LIFE AQUARIUM IN BENALMÁDENA RECENTLY TOOK IN A HALF-METRE-LONG SNOWFLAKE MORAY EEL WHOSE OWNERS COULD NO LONGER KEEP IT IN THEIR HOME TANK.
Sea-Life says this was only the latest in a long line of marine species it has accepted from owners who for one reason or another either no longer wanted or could not take care of their pets.
Other recent ‘refugees’ taken in by Sea-Life include ‘Piri’ the piranha and an adolescent bamboo shark. In addition, this summer the aquarium provided “a new home for a large number of the jellyfish found on our coasts,” according to a Sea-Life spokesperson.
Far from complaining about its role as an impromptu refuge, Sea-Life says it welcomes unwanted pets. “If on any occasion you can no longer maintain your pet in your tank for whatever reason, Sea-Life can provide a home,” it says.In many cases, the unwanted pets adopted by Sea-Life find themselves living in better conditions, and with more expert care, than they ever would have in a home fish tank, say officials at the aquarium. The new moray eel that was recently taken in by Sea-Life has now passed through its quarantine period and last Friday went on display in the aquarium’s Sea Serpents exhibition. ‘Piri’ the piranha now swims with a school of friends in the Amazon tank and the bamboo shark plies the waters of the aquarium’s 250,000-litre shark tank.


Film crews in Tarifa and Jerez

Major journalistic interest in province

By David Eade

A TOTAL OF 14 DIFFERENT MEDIA GROUPS WILL VISIT THE PROVINCE DURING THE FIRST PART OF OCTOBER, WITH THE COLLABORATION OF THE CÁDIZ TOURIST BOARD.
While here they will send back news items, in-depth reports and film documentaries to their home countries. In addition the tour operator ‘My Travel’ will bring 12 Danish journalists to Cádiz, while an Italian television channel and an international TV station specialising in tourism-related subjects are also in the province.
Italian ‘Alice’ TV is preparing a programme in Cádiz for its ‘Mediterráneo’ series, which covers different cultures around the sea. It will concentrate on Tarifa and Jerez, looking at the Tarifa coastline and Roman remains at Baelo Claudia, while in Jerez the emphasis will be on flamenco, craft workshops and the González Byass bodegas. The Italian tourist market is an important growing sector for Cádiz and last year numbers peaked at around 32,000, the majority coming to the Tarifa region for the water sports and nightlife.
‘My Travel’ is bringing two inspection trips to Cádiz in the hope that next year there will be a direct air link with Jerez. The first group of 12 Danish journalists will visit the city of Cádiz, Conil and Jerez. While in Jerez they’ll see the Real Escuela Andaluza dancing horses and visit the Marqués del Real Tesoro bodegas. ‘My Travel’ also plans to bring both Swedish and Danish travel agents to visit Novo Sancti Petri as well as Conil and Vejer de la Frontera in the near future. Both the Swedish and Danish markets have huge growth potential for the province with the Cádiz tourist board recording only 7,000 nights spent by Swedes and 5,491 visits by Danes in 2005.Also recording a documentary is Liberty TV, the first pan-European channel dedicated to tourism in the same manner as Eurosport concentrates on sporting events. It broadcasts to 22 countries in eight languages and a crew will be in Jerez between October 5 to 9 to film for its ‘Wine Regions of Spain’.


More water restrictions if drought continues

Emergency work to protect drinking water supplies

By Dave Jamieson

THE JUNTA DE ANDALUCÍA IS PREDICTING FURTHER WATER RESTRICTIONS IF RAINFALL IN THE REGION DOES NOT INCREASE SUBSTANTIALLY BY DECEMBER.
The regional environment councillor, Fuensanta Coves, said that at least half of the 300 litres per square metre needed was required to avoid imposing more limitations, particularly on farmers. Speaking at a conference in Córdoba last week, she said this sector would bear the brunt of any new cutbacks because only 10 to 12 per cent of water supplies are destined for human consumption. After two years of drought, however, the councillor gave assurances that domestic supplies would be guaranteed and that emergency work to protect drinking water was underway in all Andalucía’s provinces. The National Meteorological Institute is predicting a “normal autumn” but Sra Coves said that such rainfall would not be sufficient to compensate for the present low reserves.
The prospect of more restrictions came as the city of Málaga was told by the water supplier, Cuenca Mediterránea Andaluza, that it must exercise greater controls on water used for irrigating private gardens. Fifteen per cent of drinking water is estimated to be used in this way, a practice which is prohibited by the Drought Decree passed last November, and for which local police are able to impose fines.Meanwhile, 29 of the region’s biggest water consumers have been sanctioned for not submitting fortnightly reports as required by law. The decree requires businesses which use more than 250,000 cubic litres of water to submit a statement every other week outlining their consumption, but almost half of the 64 which fall into this category have failed to do so. Now the Permanent Committee on Drought Management is likely to fine them anything from 6,000 to 30,000 euros. However, the committee also reported some good news with savings of 60 cubic hectometres so far this year as a result of restrictions already imposed.


Gibraltar gambling websites hit by new USA law

By David Eade

Republicans were jubilant after forcing through a bill that aims to strangle US operations of the 15-billion-dollar online gambling industry. While some observers questioned the law’s effectiveness shares in the internet betting companies on the London Stock Exchange went in to meltdown.
The vast majority of gamblers are placing online wagers on poker via a variety of websites run out of Britain and Canada but actually located in places like Gibraltar. The major website is operated by PartyGaming, the Gibraltar-based owner of the world’s biggest online poker business. Both it and 888 Holdings, also based in Gibraltar, said they would suspend their business with US residents.
Republicans hid the measure in a bill aimed at enhancing port security and President George W. Bush is expected soon to sign the bill, which outlaws US banks and credit card companies from processing internet bets. Internet service providers can also block users’ access to betting sites.However analysts believe regulation and not prohibition is still the most likely outcome for internet gambling in the United States. All should become clearer once the November elections to Congress are over but in the meantime companies such as PartyGaming and 888 Holdings are expected to step up their operations in the gambling-crazy Far East.


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