News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol
In association with
Week August 14th to August 20th 2003.
NHS BAN ON OAP EXPATS
Six-month deadline abroad closes door on free healthcare
By Danny Collins
BRITISH NATIONALS WHO SPEND MORE THAN SIX MONTHS LIVING ABROAD ARE TO BE DENIED FREE NHS TREATMENT IN BRITAIN - REGARDLESS OF TAX AND NATIONAL INSURANCE CONTRIBUTIONS MADE IN PRIOR YEARS.
Although the new ruling will more seriously affect expatriate pensioners, British non-pensioners living abroad will also be denied free NHS healthcare, but the disqualifying period for the latter group has not yet been set.
The Government move is aimed at cutting the cost of 'health tourism', a bureaucratic loophole that allows foreigners to travel to the UK for free NHS treatment that would be costly in their own countries. Attempts to limit the abuse of the system were introduced in 1989, when a deadline of three months was introduced. However, Department of Health figures show that the legislation was never enforced.
According to health officials, the extension to six months will be vigorously monitored at all NHS hospitals, with those who do not meet the new criteria accepted only as private patients, effectively including Brits who have chosen to make their home elsewhere in Europe.
COST OF IMMIGRANT HIV
The biggest drain on the UK Health Service is the cost of treatment for immigrants suffering from HIV and AIDS, which cost the British taxpayer £345 million in 2002. Under EU human rights legislation, HIV-positive visitors to Britain will not be affected by the ban and can stay in Britain as long as they receive NHS care. Meanwhile, any British expatriate wishing to return to the UK in cases of terminal or long-term illness will be treated as a health tourist and have to pay in advance for treatment.
According to an Age Concern spokesman: "Although the six-months rule affects British subjects living abroad, in particular it forces ailing OAP expatriates on the Costas into making choices whether to have treatment in Spain - which ironically would be free under EU law - or come back home to their families and be forced to pay, despite having contributed to the British system throughout their working lives. There is a clear distinction between immigrants and British nationals returning home, but it seems to have become lost in the mire of human rights and political correctness so loved by the current British Government."
Tory Health spokesman Liam Fox has labelled the NHS disqualifications "a clear betrayal of hard-working British citizens that particularly deprives our own pensioners of the use of the NHS to which they have contributed all their working lives."
UK VISITORS LOSE ON CURRENCY EXCHANGE
Study reveals non-compliance with money exchange regulations
By Dave Jamieson
A HOLIDAY IN SPAIN COULD COST BRITISH HOLIDAYMAKERS UP TO 13 PER CENT MORE THAN THEY ANTICIPATED, ACCORDING TO A MÁLAGA BANKING WATCHDOG GROUP.
The Association of Bank Service Users (Ausbanc) says that many people are being caught out by the huge variation in the rates applied in the province when sterling is changed into euros. Ausbanc studied 20 money-exchange businesses in Málaga and, according to their co-ordinator Ángel Yagüe, none achieved acceptable standards. He said that after the introduction of the euro 18 months ago, the association expected the level of complaints about money-exchange services to fall, but the number of problems raised by British visitors has actually increased.
According to Ausbanc, 25 per cent of money-exchange offices do not display their rates, while 20 per cent do not display their authorisation from the Bank of Spain. The study also revealed that 70 per cent do not have English-speaking staff, despite the fact that changing British pounds into euros is now a primary income source for them.
However, commission rates are what provoke most complaints from users. Ausbanc says that where commission is charged, the rate must be made clear to the customer before the transaction is conducted, but in its study only a third of the currency exchangers followed the rules.
In addition, 17 per cent of the exchange houses refused to cancel a transaction once it was initiated. Excuses ranged from "I can't find the boss" to "the order has already been transferred to the Bank of Spain's computer"; in neither case is the customer outside of his legal right to back out of the uncompleted transaction, according to Ausbanc.
CHANGE LARGER SUMS
The association recommends that holidaymakers shop around, comparing available exchange rates. And because of the common minimum commissions of 4.50 to 6.01 euros, Ausbanc recommends that consumers avoid making multiple exchanges of small amounts, instead changing in one lump sum all of the money they expect to need during their stay.
RUSSIAN ASSASSIN ARRESTED IN MARBELLA
By David Eade
The Guardia Civil and the Marbella local police have arrested a Russian citizen alleged to be the head of the 'Medvekovskaya', an important Russian criminal organisation. The suspect, Andrey P., is accused of various assassinations in Spain.
The investigations were carried out by the Guardia Civil in collaboration with the Russian Ministry of the Interior, which sent a high-ranking official to the Costa del Sol. According to the Guardia Civil, they managed to track down both Andrey P. and his brother Oleg P., and also to establish that in 1995 the organisation killed one of its chiefs, A.E.G.
The investigations into Andrey P., who was born in Moscow in 1962, allowed the police to establish possible relations between him and other individuals in Lleida, Girona, Tenerife, Mallorca and Málaga.
In separate money-laundering enquiries, two other Russian criminals believed to be members of a network subservient to 'Medvekovskaya' were detained. The police say these investigations have opened up new sources of information on Russian criminals and gangs, and have reinforced the case against Andrey P.
MUÑOZ THREATENS TO DISSOLVE TOWN COUNCIL
Marbella town councillors vote on censure motion against the mayor
By David Eade
AS CDSN WENT TO PRESS, THE MEMBERS OF THE MARBELLA TOWN COUNCIL WERE MEETING TO VOTE ON THE MOTION OF CENSURE AGAINST MAYOR JULIÁN MUÑOZ.
The 'no-confidence' motion was brought by ex-members of the mayor's GIL party in partnership with ex-PSOE councillors and Partido Andalucista councillors.
If, as has been predicted widely in the Spanish media, the motion is passed, it is expected that a coalition government will take control of the Town Hall. The most likely outcome is that former GIL councillor and now leader of the Grupo Mixto, Marisol Yagüe, will be mayoress, whilst the former leader of PSOE, Isabel García Marcos, will act as first deputy mayor, and PA leader Carlos Fernández will become second deputy.
However, ahead of the debate and vote on the motion, the embattled mayor stated that, were the vote successful, his first act would be to ask the regional and central governments to dissolve the Town Council. He predicted that Marbella would be misgoverned by the three-party coalition, saying, "my personal opinion is that Marisol is not at all capable of being mayoress. Who is she going to put in charge of town planning - herself, Isabel García Marcos, or Carlos Fernández?"
Prior to the vote on the censure motion, the PA and Isabel García Marcos appealed to the mayor to step down voluntarily. Sr Fernández stated, "it would be the most decent thing that he could do, an honourable gesture on his part." Their appeal fell on deaf ears.
GIL TROUBLES ELSEWHERE
Meanwhile, the mayor of Estepona, Antonio Barrientos, has been handed a GIL-related dilemma by the Tribunal of Accounts. The auditing body wants the PSOE mayor to take action against the former GIL councillors who ruled the town under the leadership of Jesús Gil's son, Jesús Gil Marín, between 1995 and 1999. The tribunal alleges that 26 million euros of municipal money is unaccounted for. The problem for Mayor Barrientos is that many former GIL members of are now councillors with the PES party, which is the PSOE's coalition partner of on the current Town Council.
PP PRESIDENT ENTERS NERJA ROW OVER NATURE PARK
By Dave Jamieson
The president of the Partido Popular in Andalucía has joined the conflict between Nerja and the Junta de Andalucía over vehicular access to the beaches of the Maro - Cerro Gordo Natural Park (CDSN, August 7 - 13).
Last year, the PSOE-ruled Junta barred cars from accessing the Park's beaches and, despite requests from Nerja, has refused to rescind the order. Nerja's PP-ruled Town Hall has argued that similar beaches in Almuñécar enjoy automobile access with no apparent environmental damage.
PP President Teófila Martínez said last week that the regional government is suffering from a "lack of co-ordination" on environmental matters, and attributed the problems of Nerja's natural park to the socialist "kings" who maintain different policies in different areas.
Meanwhile, the service implemented by the Junta to provide public transport from legal parking areas to the beaches has come under fire. Queues of over an hour have been criticised by Nerja's councillor for Beaches, José Miguel García. However, the Junta's Ignacio Trillo responded by saying the service is operating correctly, and accused Nerja Town Hall of maintaining an "incomprehensible attitude" toward the issue. The debate received additional fodder when, last Saturday afternoon, one of the Junta transports - a Nissan four-wheel-drive - drove off the steep beach-access road and down the cliff of El Cañuelo beach. Only the driver was in the vehicle at the time, and he was uninjured due to the car's descent being cushioned and ultimately stopped by the pine trees on the slope.
The row over the Natural Park was also one of the main subjects of discussion at a meeting of over 80 local people last week, who came together to explore the possibility of forming of a residents' action group. A committee was formed to develop the idea further.
TORREMOLINOS BEEFS UP POLICE FORCE
By Oliver McIntyre
Torremolinos Mayor Pedro Fernández Montes last week officially swore in 31 new officers to the town's local police department, bringing the squad up to 172 agents and making it the third largest force in the province, behind Málaga and Marbella. The move is just the latest in the town's recent efforts to beef up its local police force; in less than 12 months, the department has grown by 78 officers - an 83 per cent increase. The large number of new hires, many of whom come straight out of the police academy, has made the Torremolinos department the youngest in the province in terms of the average age of its officers.
At the swearing-in ceremony, Mayor Fernández noted that, as a tourism destination, the town holds "public safety as one of its main pillars." He recognised the need for even more police in the municipality, in order to handle the needs of not just the registered population of 52,000 residents, but of the actual population of closer to 110,000 residents, and as many as 300,000 inhabitants in the peak summer month of August.
FOREIGNERS FILE SUIT AGAINST TIMESHARE RESELLERS
NEWS Staff Reporter
A group of 134 foreigners, consisting mainly of Britons, Germans, Danes, French and Belgians, has filed suit against around 50 companies that allegedly engaged in fraudulent reselling of timeshare properties. A Málaga court has opened an investigation of the case, in which some complainants indicate they paid as much as 33,000 euros to resellers who contacted them claiming to have a guaranteed buyer lined up for their timeshare weeks.
In the suit, the group names not just the accused companies but also the individuals responsible for the businesses, most of whom are also foreigners. The majority of the companies - about 30 of them - are based on the Costa del Sol, in Benalmádena, Torremolinos, Fuengirola, Mijas, Marbella, and Estepona. Others are located in different Spanish regions, like Tenerife, Lanzarote and Barcelona, and even outside the country, in the UK and Portugal. According to the lawsuit, the financial transactions for carrying out the resale operations were generally made through banks located outside of Spain, typically in so-called 'financial paradises' where banking laws are more lax.
ETA BOMBERS PLANNED ATTACKS ON COSTA
Police have video of the two ETA terrorists in three local hotels
By Oliver McIntyre
THE TWO ETA TERRORISTS WHO ALLEGEDLY CARRIED OUT LAST MONTH'S BOMBINGS IN HOTELS IN ALICANTE AND BENIDORM ALSO PLANNED TO HIT SIMILAR TARGETS IN THE COSTA DEL SOL, ACCORDING TO INFORMATION MADE PUBLIC BY POLICE AUTHORITIES LAST WEEK.
The belief that the bombers planned attacks on Costa del Sol targets is based on information and evidence the police found in the suspects' Valencia safe house, as well as on video footage of the two men taken in three different Costa hotels prior to the Alicante bombings. Police also know that the two men, Jon J.T. and Asier E.A., had reservations at two hotels - one in Torremolinos and the other in Málaga - for dates following the Alicante attacks. However, the suspects did not show up at the hotels on the dates of their reservations.
Police believe that the rapid identification of the suspects after the Alicante attacks, and subsequent police raid of their Valencia safe house, may have thwarted the alleged terrorists' Costa plans and sent them fleeing elsewhere, possibly to southern France. In the apartment, police found two explosive devices of the type used for car bombs, 2.8 kilos of dynamite, and detailed maps and public-transportation information for the Costa del Sol and other areas.
The police search for the two alleged terrorists continues, both on the Costa del Sol and elsewhere. Authorities have asked that anyone with information that could be helpful to the investigation call the police hotline on 952 04 64 18.
FAIR BRINGS HEIGHTENED SECURITY, NOISE CONCERNS
Málaga gears up for the city's major annual social event
By Dave Jamieson
MÁLAGA'S ANNUAL FAIR OPENS TOMORROW. THE CITY IS PROMISING BETTER SECURITY THAN EVER BEFORE, BUT THE TOWN HALL HAS ALREADY RECEIVED A FORMAL COMPLAINT ABOUT NOISE POLLUTION AND ECOLOGICAL DAMAGE.
Almost 500 extra police officers will be on duty during the fair, many armed with metal detectors in an effort to find weapons before trouble can begin. The control of alcohol will also be high on the security agenda, with detection of sales to minors a priority and increased traffic controls in place. National Police, the Guardia Civil and the Junta's Local Security Department have all augmented their forces, while stall holders in youth areas have been obliged to employ security officers.
However, residents of the Campanillas area, which lies close to the fairground, have already denounced the Town Hall, claiming the authorities allow noise levels to exceed legal levels. They say the fair should observe a maximum of 65 decibels in daytime and 55 decibels between 23:00 and 07:00. In response, Mayor Francisco de la Torre - mindful of the fines recently imposed on Vélez-Málaga for failing to act on noise complaints (CDSN, August 7 - 13) - has promised to reduce noise levels, particularly in the city centre, where residents have complained that the situation can seriously affect health. They have demanded that bars not place loudspeakers outside, and have asked the mayor to implement a "Green Patrol" of local police officers well-versed in noise regulations and aware of the rights of residents. The residents also plan to create a city-wide action group, 'Málaga Against Noise', to bring together those who struggle against the problem and to ensure that existing legislation is enforced.
LOTS OF LOCAL WINE
Whatever action is taken to curb noise, there is no doubt that Málaga residents and the thousands of visitors arriving for the next 10 days of festivities will be determined to enjoy themselves. Helping them will be 150,000 litres of wines bearing the 'Málaga' or 'Sierras de Málaga' labels of origin. The local wines will be promoted throughout the fair in the Plaza de la Constitución, while the Town Hall will be offering them at three of its official functions.
Even those who can't get to Málaga can enjoy the city's fair this year - on the Internet. Webcams will beam live pictures from the marina and the Plaza del Marqués de Larios around the world (malagaturismo.com), while each day's programme of events of can be accessed on the Town Hall Web site (ayto-malaga.es). And to court all of those tourists who do make it to Málaga this year, the fair is being promoted at Málaga airport and at the city's bus and rail stations.