Costa del Sol News - 26th June 2008

News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol

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

Week 26th June - 2nd July 2008

BEACH FIRE

Fire crews in Nerja were called out at midday on Tuesday when a fire lit on Carabeillo beach spread out of control. A nearby house overlooking the sands was evacuated and furniture on its terrace was destroyed, but nobody was hurt. A group of youngsters camping out to celebrate San Juan are believed to have started the fire which destroyed 2,000 square metres of vegetation. Photo: D. Jamieson


UK POLICE RAID COSTA CAMPSITES

One in four caravans was found to be stolen

By Kellie Boersma

LANCASHIRE constabulary's Serious and Organised Crime Unit, working with the Guardia Civil, have uncovered more than 30 caravans stolen in the UK on Spanish campsites.

British authorities were aware there were stolen caravans being sold to unsuspecting Britons, but the full scale of the organised crime operation was not uncovered until last week.

Undercover police and a UK insurance investigator raided a number of campsites in Benidorm and their findings have been astonishing to say the least.

After checking the registration numbers of 120 caravans last week, they found that 30 of them had been reported as stolen in the UK.
Investigators have estimated the total value of the stolen caravans at one million euros. In the UK 700 caravans are stolen each year, many of which are filtered to the Costas by organised gangs.
Checks revealed that none of the 30 stolen caravans had the correct legal paperwork or a receipt of payment.

Police have been busy taking statements all week from the owners affected by the crime, all of whom are British expats.

WARNING

Costa del Sol News and the British police are collaborating to raise awareness of this fraud. Police will be releasing a guide on how to purchase a caravan and the steps that need to be taken to ascertain its legality.

A UK officer said: "Under no circumstances, should cash be paid. Use a banking system and a full check of the caravan should be made using the HPI system."

An HPI check enters the caravan's VIN (vehicle identification number) into a computer to see if all is in order. The cost is only £15 and a full background check is carried out to confirm if the caravan has been subject to a total loss insurance claim in the past, due to damage or theft, or whether it has any outstanding finance. More information can be found on www.hpicheck.com

The Benidorm campsites are the starting point of the ongoing investigation which is expected to spread to the Costa del Sol.
There are thousands of people on the Costas who live in caravans and are unaware of their history.


Fire threatens Torroxtown centre

Crowd cheers as helicopter douses flames near one home

By Dave Jamieson

Dozens of homes in Torrox Pueblo were evacuated on Saturday afternoon after a major fire in the neighbouring countryside threatened the town. Investigators believe the blaze, which began at about 6pm, may have been started by children playing in the Torrox river valley.

A huge pall of smoke hung over the town and could be seen for many kilometres as helicopters, often flying in very low-visibility conditions, dumped water onto the flames. They were supported on the ground by fire crews and 30 Protección Civil volunteers, including some from Nerja and Frigiliana.

A fire service spokesman said that the outbreak started on a hillside immediately to the east of the town centre in an agricultural area known as Puente de Las Ánimas. It caused alarm amongst residents for two hours as the wind fanned flames rapidly towards the town, while several properties in the campo were under more serious threat. The fire reached within a few metres of one house before a helicopter doused the flames, prompting cheers from the watching crowd.

Up to 100 homes in the Cerro Lago and Calle Baja areas were evacuated as a precaution while the smoke caused traffic chaos in the town centre, where a funeral was underway.

The fire was under control by 8.30pm and dislodged residents were allowed to return to their homes later in the evening. A number of fire crews remained at the site all night in case the blaze restarted spontaneously. There were no reports of injuries, although the stress of the situation brought on a number of asthma and panic attacks, which were treated by ambulance crews attending the scene.

'Environmentaldisaster'

Up to 20 hectares of land was razed by the fire, which a technician from the Junta de Andalucía called an "environmental disaster," adding that it would take years for the area to recover.


Roca's three million euros bail stands

Marbella's former director of town planning to stay in jail

By David Eade

The former director of town planning in Marbella, Juan Antonio Roca, has had his appeal against a three million euros bail charge in the Saqueo 1 case dismissed by the Spanish High Court. The bail levy had been imposed by judge Pablo Ruz which virtually ensured that Roca would be forced to stay in jail.

Roca, who is also the alleged mastermind behind the Malaya corruption scandal at Marbella town hall, had been released for a short period after the judge in that case agreed to bail conditions of one million euros. Once his friends and family had raised the money to secure his release the decision caused uproar in Marbella especially when he demanded his job at the town hall back arguing he was yet to be convicted.

Marbella town hall appealed the Malaya bail decision and it was also opposed by the public prosecutor, arguing that there was a real chance that Roca could flee as he undoubtedly had large funds overseas. It was also pointed out that in the Malaya case he could be held in protective custody for a further two years.

The dilemma of Roca's release was solved by his detention in the Saqueo 1 case and the additional higher bail charge. This investigation centres on the diversion of 26.7 million euros from Marbella town hall to private companies between 1991 and 1995.
At the weekend Roca was moved from the prison at Alhaurín de la Torre to the Albolote jail in Granada. His lawyer said the reason for this transfer is that Roca is due to give evidence at a trial in July before the Andalucía High Court in Granada. This case involves Roca, the former Marbella judge Francisco Javier De Urquía and a third party who is also involved in the Malaya investigation.


Barrientos resigns asmayor and is held in jail

Sergio López takes over as interim mayor of Estepona

By David Eade

It has been a bad week for the now former mayor of Estepona Antonio Barrientos. Following his arrest last Tuesday on town planning corruption charges, he was held in police cells before finally appearing before the investigating judge Isabel Conejo on Friday. He was then one of five people in the 'Astapa' case to be remanded to the Alhaurín de la Torre prison pending trial.

In addition to Sr Barrientos, those jailed without bail are his former chief of staff, José Flores; PES councillor Manuel Reina; former GIL councillor José Ignacio Crespo; and municipal official Javier Wittmeur.

The PSOE had announced as soon as news of the arrests broke that it would immediately open proceedings to expel any socialist councillors who were involved from the party. Barrientos's demise came sooner, as he tendered his irrevocable and immediate resignation as mayor.

Taking over for him as mayor, for now at least, is socialist councillor Sergio López, who over the years has served as the councillor for culture, tourism and town planning. With a number of socialist and PES councillors implicated in the 'Astapa' investigation, it remains to be seen what form of coalition governing team will emerge.
According to family and friends, Sr Barrientos was badly affected by his arrest and imprisonment, and he appeared in court unshaven and subdued. Many of his party loyalists have sprung to his defence, saying he was "a man of honour" and proclaiming his innocence. For its part the PES party, largely made up of former GIL members, stated it was the victim of a political vendetta and rejected any suggestion that it would disband.

This all stands at variance with the views of the judge, Isabel Conejo. Speaking on Monday she stated that the evidence pointed to Sr Barrientos having "enriched himself" through the monies received from property developers, and said these illicit funds also appear to have been used to support the activities of the PSOE and PES. The socialist party said it would carry out an immediate audit of its accounts in Estepona and pass the findings to the court.

Businesses 'donated' profits

It is alleged that not only did property companies pay for licences and for land-classification changes, but they were also "invited" to donate part of their profits from these illicit deals. Among those arrested in the case and released on bail are the former head of Valle Romano, Luis Fernando Linares, the president of Prasa, José Romero, the constructors Félix and Vicente Delgado, Agrojardin owner Antonio Bazán, and businessmen Manuel Barroso and Enrique González. Also under investigation are various socialist and PES councillors, town hall officials and a number of lawyers.


Wake up call forLos Merinos protestors

Developer takes on additional staff to carry out 'environmental works'

By David Eade

If the residents of Cuevas del Becerro and Arriate, as well as the many environmental groups, opposing the golf development at Los Merinos had been lulled into a sense of security after the developers announced a suspension of the works they have now received a rude awakening.

The Catalan-based Copisa had suspended work on the controversial development blaming the down turn in the property market. However last week it paid Ronda town hall 866,000 euros that were due as the fourth stage payment in its planning agreement.
Copisa stressed that it made the payments to honour the agreements it has signed and to show that in the longer term it still intended to proceed with the golf, hotel and residential complex. Not only has the company made this payment, it has also announced it is taking on 36 additional workers to carry out what the company describes as „environmental works“ as well as maintaining the infrastructure already put in place. In July another 12 people will be hired to undertake archaeological work on the site.

An agreement has been signed between Copisa and the Museo de Ronda to carry out excavations under the supervision of the municipal archaeologist Bartolomé Nieto. It is believed that within the confines of Los Merinos Norte there is a Roman villa and possibly ruins dating from the Moorish era. Copisa says that it is looking to incorporating these sites in to its planned urban development by creating an open air museum.

Although the Merinos Norte project is still technically on hold, Copisa eventually intends to build over 800 homes, five luxury hotels and two golf courses on the site. This has been fiercely opposed by local communities who fear the development will drain their vital water supplies. Environmentalists oppose the scheme because of the water problems but also because they believe there should not be an urban development on this site.

The regional government has also tried to have the work legally stopped while the water situation is examined. It is appealing a local court ruling that the development should continue. The Izquierda Unida party has also brought a case against the mayor of Ronda, Antonio Marín, for breaking environmental laws by issuing a decree authorising the project.In addition, as reported last week, the neighbouring Ascari racetrack, is going ahead with a four-star luxury hotel development at Los Merinos Sur. This project is also bound to be controversial because it is located in the biosphere park of the Sierra de las Nieves.

The operations director of the race track complex, Melchor Durán, says the scheme will be backed by a 25 million euros investment. On the drawing board is a hotel complex that will comprise of 24 bungalows, a luxury restaurant, cafeteria, the latest generation of spas with a beauty centre and a swimming pool built on a 6,000 square metre area.


Great day for a very special boy

Mijas residents raise funds to help Tomas

By John Peatey

There was no mistaking the venue for little Tomas Leighton's fund raising Fun Day. Many of the surrounding area's trees and lamp-posts had copies of last week's CDSN article, featuring the lad, fixed to them. Music could be heard from afar, but that was not a problem for the local residents of Urbanisation La Cortijera in La Cala de Mijas. They were mostly at the event, thoroughly enjoying themselves and having a good time while helping to raise money towards Tom's ongoing massive healthcare requirements.

Born with cerebral palsy, this three-and-a-half-years old boy is also virtually blind and has West syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy. Such circumstances could lead to a pretty miserable personal outlook on life one could be excused for assuming - until you meet Tomas. It's the smile that does it, and it's there for most of the time.
Hundreds of people attended the afternoon and evening events, which had been organised by Graham Huxford from the Sussex Tavern on the urbanisation, and Jan Owens, president of the La Cala branch of the Lions.

During her year of presidency Jan has raised in excess of €75,000 for charity, and one of the beneficiaries of her tremendous efforts is Tomas. "Retiring from office at the end of this month will give me more time to arrange a special event next year to raise more much needed funding for this loveable little boy," Jan told CDSN. "And I do mean special," she added, not wishing to be drawn further at this point in time. However, when details are available Costa del Sol News will be the first to know, I was assured.

Tying Graham down for a quick comment and photo proved impossible due to his work commitment that afternoon. It was a case of 'if something needed sorting ask Graham' and it seemed he was in a hundred places all at the same time! However a visit to his local - all in the cause of journalism of course - quickly showed that here is a bar with a big and generous heart. Support for Tomas was evident everywhere I looked, and the hosting of that evening's race night, plus the locals' support of the event which went on into the early hours of Sunday morning, underlined this emphatically.Final figures from the fund-raiser were not available at the time of going to press, but early indications suggest that up to €3,500 could be on the cards, and there is a great deal more to come.The auction of a large number of generously donated items has now been deferred until sometime in July, when it will be hosted live on REM radio from the Mijas Hippodrome by station boss Maurice Boland.

Items up for grabs include return flights to various airports, signed Tottenham and Marbella football club shirts, a night's accommodation in an hotel, an indulgence day at a spa and even VIP ownership of a racehorse at the racecourse on the night, with all the trimmings that come with that! As soon as details have been finalised CDSN and the radio station will be covering this important event. Local frequencies can be found on the radio station's website - www.rem.fm

And finally, a message from Tomas's mum, Jill. "Jon and I were honoured by the number of people who came to La Cortijera to support our young son," she told me. "Our heartfelt thanks go to the organisers of such a wonderful day, and to all of those who took part in the proceedings, and especially to everyone for their generous support on the day. Thank you all."

If you would like to help towards Tomas's ongoing medical needs this can be done at any branch of Solbank. Donations should be made to: The Tomas Leighton Gregory Trust Account, Account number ES45 0081 0616 11 0006129528. If you do donate, please also email Tomasjonathan@hotmail.co.uk and let his parents know. Jon and Jill like to thank contributors for their donations personally, and also provide supporters with information on Tomas's progress.


Benalmádena to relaunch Jardines del Muro bar

Business that gets concession to operate it will fix up the site

By Oliver McIntyre

Benalmádena town hall has set in motion a plan to restore the Jardines del Muro zone below the Mirador del Muro viewpoint and re-launch the site's pergola bar and terrace.

Local officials say the site, with its gardens and pathways, unique bar and stunning views over the Costa, is one of the town's most beautiful spots. But in recent years the area has become somewhat neglected and rundown."

We want to recuperate the Muro and its gardens, which have always been one of the town's emblematic sites, for the use and enjoyment of local residents and visitors," said the deputy mayor for Benalmádena Pueblo, Sandra Martín.

In order to achieve this without digging too deeply into the town hall's already flagging coffers, the council has decided to offer a concession to operate the bar, under the condition that the concessionaire will undertake a series of improvement works. Officials say the restoration of the site and the bar will require an investment of over 80,000 euros.

Restoration work

The conditions for putting the concession contract out to tender were approved at last week's council meeting. The contract will be good for 15 years and the concessionaire will have to commit to carrying out a list of improvements within two months of signing the contract. These include fixing up the bar facilities, adding new public restrooms, and installing sewer, water and electricity connections. The operator will also be responsible for maintenance throughout the contract period.

The town hall's Parks and Gardens Department will take responsibility for sprucing up the site's gardens and paths prior to the bar's reopening.

The exact hours the bar will be allowed to keep have not been specified, but the town hall says "the opening and closing hours will be prudent so that neighbouring residents are not bothered."


Mayor wants no delay to Marbella's new PGOU

Muñoz insists planning document must be approved by year end

By David Eade

The mayor of Marbella, Ángeles Muñoz, is emphatic that the new local development plan (PGOU) for the municipality will not be delayed and will be approved by the end of this year.

The plan was provisionally approved in July and although changes are being incorporated into the document, the town hall is bullish that it will be finalised and officially adopted within six months.

Speaking on the progress of the PGOU, Sra Muñoz stated: "We are working so that the various stages are complied with and the meetings with the drafters of the document and the regional government are being intensified."

But the optimism shown by the mayor and her team is not shared by everyone close to the project, some of whom say it will take much longer than six months to incorporate the changes.

A record number of people queued to see the initial document during its first public comment period. That will now be repeated with the revised version.

During the years of the GIL and post-GIL era the people of Marbella had no say in town planning matters in their municipality. Indeed, it is the 1986 PGOU that is still the recognized legal document. Hence the keenness of the public to be involved in the drafting of the new town planning ordinance and also their concern to know how the issue of illegal residential developments will be dealt with.

Ronda PGOU

Meanwhile, the people of Ronda have also been patient in waiting to see the new local development plan for their municipality. Town planning was one of the portfolios held by the Partido Popular and the delays in producing the PGOU was one of the reasons Mayor Antonio Marín gave for breaking his Partido Andalucista's coalition with that party.

Now town planning is the responsibility of the new socialist (PSOE) coalition partners. María José Martín de Haro, the new delegate for land and housing, said the PGOU will be completed in between 20 and 30 days. It will then be opened to a month-long public comment period. The document will be displayed in the old court house.


Seat 600 honoured in weekend of nostalgia

Fuengirola rally saw unveiling of sculpture of Spain's favourite car

By David Eade

Humble the Seat 600 may be by today's cars' standards, but it was in this vehicle that many Spaniards first took to the roads and indeed some still lovingly drive them to this day.

Over the weekend many owners flocked to Fuengirola, where on Sunday the mayor Esperanza Oña unveiled a car-sized statue of the Seat 600 on a roundabout in Los Boliches close to the Finca del Secretario. The replica is made from iron and fibreglass and fully recaptures the romance of a past era.

Mayor Oña told the crowds gathered for the event: "This car was responsible for the first tourism trips to this town and hence started Fuengirola's prosperity."Over 200 Seat 600 owners converged on Fuengirola from Friday night for the celebrations. The cars were on display at the fairground and at noon on Saturday they drove in procession through the town. Sra Oña rode in the lead car, which was decorated in the colours of the newly promoted Málaga soccer team.

It was truly a day of nostalgia and the drivers and passengers in the following Seat 600s were dressed in the styles of the 1960s with suitcases and sunshades in the back. The cars belong to Seat 600 clubs throughout Spain.

Romantic memories

Many of the couples in the cars admitted that they had first courted in the Seat 600. Some even declared this road-trip to the beach their second honeymoon. For the younger generation, the Seat 600 is a car that their grandparents and parents had spoken lovingly of - and now here were some 200 of them before their very eyes.


Nerja's market moves but with nothing on sale

Councillor warned that traders who fail to appear at the market will have licences withdrawn

By Dave Jamieson

It was a good, old-fashioned boycott on Tuesday when Nerja's weekly market was due to open at its new location for the first time. The traders turned up - but not a single tomato, lemon or lettuce was sold as they demonstrated their disapproval of the town hall by refusing to open for business.

Until last week, Nerja's market was held in streets to the west of the town centre but long-time complaints from residents and the emergency services regarding access, noise and nuisance eventually persuaded the town hall that a new site should be found. The chosen location was an empty area in the Almijara area which has cost over 700,000 euros to prepare. However, the move is intensely disliked by the traders, whose representative body, the Málaga Association of Market Traders (AVAM), has protested against the town council's decision throughout.

A substantial presence of local police and Guardia Civil officers greeted the traders when they arrived on Tuesday morning, but there was little or no conflict. Some people set up their stalls, but none offered any goods for sale, instead engaging in animated debates about their situation with anyone who cared to listen.

The first objection is that Almijara is too far out of the town centre, so the number of people attending the market each Tuesday is likely to fall. Certainly, removing the traders and a few curious holidaymakers from this week's event would have left only a handful of customers.
Concerns about security have also been voiced, although the town hall says that the site has been approved by all the relevant authorities. Several traders on Tuesday complained the spaces allocated to stalls was too small, despite the town hall's assurance that each is three square metres larger than at the previous site.
There was also anger that vehicles used by the traders to bring their goods to Nerja should leave the site and park nearby before the market opens. Those dealing in fresh produce argue that they need to restock constantly during the morning and should not have to run back and forth to a car park.

While the mood was generally amicable, there was an underlying tension and passion from those who expressed their grievances to the assembled media. No indication has been given of what will happen next Tuesday, but the town's councillor responsible for the market, José Miguel Jimena, warned on Friday that any traders who fail to appear at the market on three consecutive weeks will have their municipal licences withdrawn. "The first weeks will be difficult," he added, "until people become accustomed." He insisted that the new out-of-town site meets all security requirements with three entrances, parking, toilets and services.


Spain hit with big bill foroverpaid capital gains

EU citizens who sold property from 2004 to 2006 were overcharged

By Dave Jamieson

Claims against the Spanish government for overpaid capital gains tax are running at far higher levels than anticipated as non-resident EU citizens seek the refunds they are due. In the last three months, the average repayment demand has risen to 24,000 euros from initial estimates of just 14,000 euros.

Hundreds of non-Spanish property owners who sold houses here between 2004 and 2006 have now started claims for the return of overpaid tax. During this period, EU citizens who were not resident in Spain paid 35 per cent capital gains tax when selling their property while Spanish nationals paid only 15 per cent.

Procedures were changed in Spain on January 1, 2007, to bring the country into line with European requirements, and now both non-resident EU citizens and Spanish nationals are charged the new rate of 18 per cent.

The data from the last three months, published last week, suggest repayments due from the Spanish treasury totalling well over 100 million euros.

The overpayment contravened European Community Treaty rules on discrimination and, say financial experts, was therefore unduly charged by the Spanish government. Around 300 people are believed to have already registered for a refund although the government in Madrid is refusing to say how many cases of overpayment there might be or how much money could be involved.

Who is eligible?

To make a claim, a number of criteria must be fulfilled. First, the property must have been sold between July 2004 and December 31, 2006, and must have been a private sale, not a company transaction. The seller must not have been a Spanish fiscal resident at the time and capital gains tax on the sale must have been paid to the Spanish authorities. Successful claimants are also expected to receive interest at an annual rate of six per cent from the original payment date to the date of repayment by the Spanish government.
However, a Barcelona firm of solicitors is warning that receiving the cash could take some time. Costa, Álvarez, Manglano and Associates, who with currency exchange brokers HiFX originally exposed the discrepancy, say that the Spanish tax office is presently rejecting all the cases being brought before it. The next step is to take legal action, they say, and Spanish courts will then consult the European Court of Justice, whose decision will be acted upon by the government. No cash has yet been returned, they add, although a number of test cases are presently in progress.


Kidnapped businessman rescued in Huelva

PP leader Mariano Rajoy's cousin amongst those arrested

By David Eade

Sixteen days after disappearing while locking up his office on the evening of Monday June 2, Sanlúcar de Barrameda businessman Rafael Ávila was freed, by Spanish police special forces, from his kidnapping ordeal. He had been held in a villa in Almonte in Huelva in subhuman conditions.

According to a police spokesperson, three people forced Sr Avila into a white van that evening. The next morning, his family received a call, from a phone box in Jerez, demanding 10 million euros. The kidnappers later reduced this to two million euros. On the same day, a witness testified that she had seen how the businessman had been taken away.

For a week there was no further contact, and the police believed Rafael Avila could be dead, but then the kidnappers contacted the family again, this time from Madrid and it was these calls that lead to the capture of the gang and the release of their victim.

By last Tuesday night police were certain that Rafael Ávila was being held at a house called 'El Retorno' on the N483 about ten kilometres from El Rocío. In the early hours of the morning the GSE led a raid on the property, cutting the wire fence at the side of the house to avoid the security cameras before blasting open the garage door with explosives. There they found Rafael chained up and lying on a mattress. Two people who were inside the house were immediately detained.

In the overnight operation nine people were arrested in connection with his kidnapping. Apart from the two in Huelva another two were arrested in Sevilla, one in Sanlúcar and four in Madrid. Among these were another businessman from Sanlúcar and a cousin of the Partido Popular's leader, Mariano Rajoy. However the kidnap plot is alleged to have been organised by Luis Rodríguez Pueyo.

According to police sources he has a criminal record for fraud and kidnapping and served a year in jail for the 'Arny' abuse of minors case. Five of the nine accused have been remanded in custody without bail.

Rafael Ávila had to be helped from the garage by police but after a medical he was reunited with his family. At a subsequent press conference his brother José Manuel stated that Rafael was recovering and was in good spirits.