News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol
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Week Septmeber 23rd to September 29th 2004.
COSTA MUGGERS BUSTED
Police dismantle ‘cells’ in Mijas and Rincón de la Victoria
BY OLIVER MCINTYRE AND DAVE JAMIESON
TWO SEPARATE GROUPS OF AN EXTENSIVE GANG THAT OPERATED IN INDEPENDENT CELLS HAVE BEEN ARRESTED BY MIJAS GUARDIA CIVIL AND NATIONAL POLICE IN RINCÓN DE LA VICTORIA.
Guardia Civil investigators from Mijas arrested seven Chileans who allegedly targeted people who had just withdrawn large quantities of cash from banks. The arrests took place in Mijas, Fuengirola and other western Costa del Sol towns just as the alleged muggers were preparing to flee the province with over 50,000 euros.
A few days later, a massive police operation in Rincón de la Victoria led to the arrest of six more Chileans, four men and two women, believed to be responsible for a series of similar daylight robberies with the same basic modus operandi.
The muggers’ normal method of working was to follow their victims from the bank and attack them at their home or workplace. The gang is believed not to have chosen victims at random but to have selected targets spotted inside banks withdrawing cash. In some cases, say investigators, the group would puncture a tyre of the victim’s car, and while one caused a distraction by pointing out the problem, another would snatch the cash.
MASSIVE POLICE OPERATION
More than 30 National Police officers were involved in the operation. Officers from Málaga’s Specialised and Violent Crime Unit wearing bullet-proof jackets were supported by members of the Special Operations Group and a helicopter. Such muggings were first reported on industrial estates in Málaga about two years ago, with seven attacks in a single month.
At least one if not both of the gangs arrested last week are believed to be related to a larger crime ring that was broken up at the end of July, say investigators. At that time, 12 people were arrested.
Air travel down in August
BY DAVE JAMIESON
LAST MONTH’S PASSENGER NUMBERS AT MÁLAGA AIRPORT WENT AGAINST A HISTORIC TREND. THE TOTAL OF 1.3 MILLION WAS A DROP ON 2003, THE FIRST TIME THAT YEAR ON YEAR FIGURES FOR THE MONTH HAVE FALLEN SINCE THE PABLO RUIZ PICASSO TERMINAL WAS CONSTRUCTED IN 1992.
Airport operator, Aena, says that Málaga was the only one of four key destinations which reported a drop, with the others - Madrid, Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca – all recording increases. However, other airports fared worse than Málaga, with Ibiza down 2.4 per cent, Menorca down 3.6 per cent and Tenerife South down 8.6 per cent.
This August, 0.4 per cent fewer travellers passed through Málaga’s departure and arrival halls, compared to the same month last year, with the British heading the national league table at 45 per cent, followed by the Spanish at 22 per cent. International passenger numbers fell by a total of 2.4 per cent but the number of domestic passengers rose by 8.7 per cent. Experts say that the downward trend confirms that fewer holiday makers headed for the Costa del Sol this summer, a fact also reflected in a five per cent drop in the number of hire cars on the region’s roads and a lower than usual consumption of drinking water. The annual picture is better, however, with 8.26 million passengers passing through Málaga in the first eight months of 2004, 3.9 per cent up on last year.
HOTEL OCCUPANCY ALSO DOWN
Figures for hotel occupancy during August in the province of Málaga were also out last week, and those issued by the Junta de Andalucía showed a fall of 3.6 per cent on 2003. Rooms were 78 per cent full, with around 120,000 fewer guests than last year. Tourism authorities attributed the drop “exclusively” to a drop in the number of foreign visitors, while Paulino Plato, councillor for tourism, commerce and sport at the Junta, described the statistics as “a normal phenomenon of the economy”.
However, the Spanish Confederation of Spanish Hotels and Tourist Apartments put the Málaga occupancy figure higher at 81 per cent, but agreed that fewer foreigners came to holiday here, although national tourism had helped to improve August’s figures. A third set of statistics, this time from the System of Tourism Analysis and Statistics, indicated that hotels along the Costa del Sol lost a million foreign visitors in the first eight months of this year, when compared to 2003. Over 40 per cent of those who did visit came from the U.K.
New advice for British property buyers
By Oliver McIntyre
The Spanish banking consumer protection group Ausbanc has announced the launch of a new service to provide advice to Britons looking to purchase property or make other financial investments in Spain.
The new service comes by way of an English-language help-line (0800-028 5291) operated from Ausbanc’s Málaga offices but accessed free of charge by callers from the UK. The help-line will provide information to UK citizens who use or are planning to use banking, financial or housing investment services in Spain.
At a press conference in London to announce the launch of the new service, Ausbanc President Luis Pineda noted that official figures show 16.1 million UK citizens visited Spain in 2003 and that it is estimated that as many as 700,000 Britons reside in the country. “This number of increasing UK citizens who choose Spain as a holiday or residential destination justifies Ausbanc’s initiative to offer new ways of giving advice and help specifically designed for the users of these financial services in Spain,” he said.
The help-line is aimed at answering common questions Ausbanc has received from Brits, such as the fees charged for money transfers from the UK into Spain, details about interest rates, the different types of available mortgage loans and, in general, how the Spanish financial system works.
Rafael Ramírez, the lawyer at Ausbanc’s Málaga offices responsible for the new help-line, said: “We would like to make it very clear that this is not a real estate service but only a help-line. We are not real estate consultants or mortgage advisors. We can only guide you through your problems and advise you of the best products or the best offer in entities available but never act as real estate agents.”
Judge denies appeal in Wanninkhof case
NEWS Staff Reporter
The judge in the Rocío Wanninkhof murder case last week confirmed that Tony Alexander King will be the only defendant on trial for the murder, denying an appeal against her previous ruling that charges against Dolores Vázquez and Robert Graham be dropped. The appeal was filed not by the prosecutor’s office, but by the lawyer for the family of Rocío Wanninkhof, acting as personal plaintiff in the case.
In her denial of the appeal, Judge María Jesús del Río stated that, following an “exhaustive investigation,” there is “absolutely no evidence directly linking Dolores Vázquez with the death of the young woman or with the Briton Tony Alexander King.” She also found no indication direct involvement on the part of King’s acquaintance Robert Graham.
TRIAL BY TRIBUNAL OR JURY?
Meanwhile, in the Coín case lawyers for the prosecution and the defence last week presented arguments to the provincial court, which is hearing the defence’s appeal of a Coín court ruling that King be tried by professional tribunal rather than by jury in that case. The prosecutor supports the Coín court’s ruling, based on the assumption that the crime involved a sexual attack, which falls outside the jurisdiction of a jury. The defence claims there is no evidence of a sexual attack and wants a trial by jury. It also requested that DNA evidence be thrown out because it says King was never warned that the test could be used against him. When CDSN went to press, no ruling from the provincial court had been announced.
Nerja marina plan
By Dave Jamieson
Nerja Town Hall is supporting a private enterprise to construct a marina in the municipality. A local firm, Lual, has submitted a draft plan for the project to the Junta de Andalucía, with the approval of the Town Council and the town’s association of businesses. Accompanying the blueprint, which envisages an investment of 60 million euros, are copies of a studies made into the suitability of the site chosen for the development and its environmental impact.
The Town Hall says that Nerja’s existing urbanisation ordinances make provision for a marina on land between Punta Lara and Ladera del Mar, to the south of the N-340 coast road, placing it on the town’s western border with Torrox. The manager of urbanisation for Nerja, Carlos García, said last week that the provision of a marina and associated facilities was a basic and fundamental element in Nerja’s planned development.
The proposed marina would provide moorings for 700 craft stretching 30 metres out from the shore and would have a perimeter of about 150,000 square metres. The area surrounding the aquatic facilities would become home to cinemas, supermarkets, shops and other commercial operations, but with no residential property.
Single bus ticket to serve 12 costa towns
Transportation Consortium aims to lower prices, streamline service
By Oliver McIntyre
THE MÁLAGA AREA TRANSPORTATION CONSORTIUM - AN ENTITY FORMED BY THE JUNTA DE ANDALUCÍA, THE PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENT AND 12 COSTA TOWNS INCLUDING THE CITY OF MÁLAGA - HAS ANNOUNCED THAT BY FEBRUARY 2005 IT WILL BE LAUNCHING A SINGLE-TICKET SYSTEM FOR BUS SERVICE WITHIN AND BETWEEN THE 12 PARTICIPATING MUNICIPALITIES.
Under the new single-ticket system, the 12 municipalities included in the consortium will be split into three zones. Zone A is the city of Málaga; Zone B includes Benalmádena, Rincón de la Victoria, Alhaurín de la Torre, Cártama, Almogía, Casabermeja and Totalán; and Zone C takes in Mijas, Pizarra, Alhaurín el Grande and Colmenar. Fuengirola and Torremolinos both opted out of joining the consortium and are not included in the new single-ticket scheme, but consortium officials say they are optimistic that the two towns will join in the future.
Using payment cards that can be purchased and recharged at 'estanco' tobacco shops, bus riders will enjoy significantly cheaper fares than at present for trips in the consortium area. The price for a single-bus trip within the same zone will be 0.72 euros, a trip that jumps one zone line will cost 0.77 euros and a trip jumping two zone lines will cost 1.08 euros. The price for trips that require changing buses en route has not yet been firmly established, pending a finalised agreement with Málaga's municipal EMT bus company and other companies that serve consortium zones (there are a total of 9 bus companies involved, with 60 interurban buses, not including the EMT fleet). Aside from the rechargeable payment cards, there will also be single-use tickets available for one euro.
TOO MANY PRIVATE VEHICLES
The new system is aimed at making public transportation more convenient and less expensive, in an effort to increase use. Currently 80 per cent of travelling in the Málaga metropolitan area is done in private vehicles and 20 per cent on public transport, according to the consortium, which was created in September 2003 to co-ordinate and integrate public transportation systems in the area. It is starting with the buses and will later address Cercanías trains and the city's future metro system, and says its objective is to change the private-to-public transportation ratio to 60-40.
Internet medicine network dismantled
BY DAVID EADE
THE GUARDIA CIVIL HAVE BROKEN UP AN ORGANISATION DEDICATED TO SELLING MEDICINES OVER THE INTERNET.
Officials acted after a person in Germany was rushed to hospital after taking medicines bought illegally on the web. The German prosecutor opened an investigation and sought help from Interpol, which in turn called in the Guardia Civil.
In the operation codenamed ‘Esculapio’ officers arrested two Germans and two Portuguese at their luxury residences in Marbella. They face charges for committing offences against the public health and professional intrusion.
VIRTUAL CHEMIST SHOPS
According to the Guardia Civil the network offered pharmaceutical products without administrative or medical control over the internet. The customers visited virtual chemist shops on the web and bought direct medicines, which were then sent to them by post.
It is believed that the organisation dispatched on average 150 packets of medicines a week to countries throughout Europe, Spain as well as the USA. When the Guardia Civil raided the homes they discovered 4,000 doses of medicines and 60,000 euros in cash. The pharmaceuticals were hidden in the garage of the German’s home amongst gardening equipment, building materials and oil.
It alleged that both the Germans and Portuguese regularly changed their residences in Marbella without paying their rent. The two Germans are being held by the Guardia Civil and face extradition to Germany to face fraud charges.
Algeciras to be frontier control base
BY DAVID EADE
THE BRITISH AND SPANISH GOVERNMENTS HAVE AGREED THAT GIBRALTAR SHOULD BE EXCLUDED FROM THE EUROPEAN AGENCY OF FRONTIER CONTROLS, WHICH COMES IN TO EFFECT ON JANUARY 1, 2005.
This means that the port of Algeciras will be the base of one of the two Spanish delegations, the other being in the Canaries.
The accord was reached at a meeting of the ambassadors of the now 25 EU member states, which sees the suspension of the European norms in relation to Gibraltar. This fully meets the wishes of Spain that it placed before the Council of Ministers of Justice and the Interior on March 30 to exclude Gibraltar. The agreement has yet to be officially approved at the meeting of the ministers of justice and the interior in Luxembourg on October 24 but that is expected to be a mere formality.
The head office of the Agency for Frontier Control has yet to be decided. The question of vigilance over the frontiers of the EU has increased in importance since May 1 when 10 new countries in the east became full members causing an increase in the pressure of immigration. The idea to create an agency to control the borders was taken in June 2003 in Greece where a packet of means to control illegal immigration in to the EU was agreed.
FRENCH POLICE IN ALGECIRAS
The French Gendarmerie is studying the possibility of sending officers to the port of Algeciras to act as a link during the period of the operation ‘Paso del Estrecho’.
The ‘Paso’ runs from June to September and sees hundreds of thousands of legal Moroccan and North African immigrants return home to the ports of Tangiers and Ceuta from all over Northern Europe for their annual holidays.
The Gendarmerie is a similar force to the Guardia Civil and if the project were agreed the French officers would assist their Spanish counterparts in controlling the flow of migrants across the Straits. The Spanish government is already in discussions with Morocco, which could also see its Royal Gendarmerie working along side the Guardia Civil to combat illegal immigration.
Rubbish tip restoration to begin
By Oliver McIntyre
Following several false starts, delays and changes in strategy, work is soon to begin on the restoration of Benalmádena’s old rubbish tip, long a barren eyesore on the mountainside along the motorway. The facility was shut down in the late 1990s and the Junta de Andalucía completed the original capping and replanting of the site in February 2001, but following heavy rains in April 2002 the new vegetation began sliding off the hill. The Junta says the slippage was due to poor adherence to the geo-textile material used as an isolation membrane between the buried rubbish and the new topsoil.
The project to redo the job using a different approach was supposed to get started in April of this year, but then got delayed until summer due to heavy rains. But when summer arrived, the plan, which involved re-grading parts of the site to make it less steep and thus make the geo-textile membrane unnecessary, had to be scrapped when it was found that underground aquifers in the zone made the strategy unfeasible.
Now, the Junta, or regional government, has been experimenting with a new plan, which will leave the geo-textile material in place and, it says, ensure that the vegetation above it won’t slide down the slope. The strategy involves spreading a layer of esparto grass embedded with seeds for the new vegetation. As the plantings grow in, the esparto grass is supposed to hold them in place and keep them from slipping until they are firmly rooted, and eventually the esparto grass will decompose, leaving just the new vegetation in place. The Junta expects to begin work on the project soon.
Tourism Board offers Spanish-for-foreigners guide
BY OLIVER MCINTYRE
THE COSTA DEL SOL TOURISM BOARD ANNOUNCED LAST WEEK THAT IT HAS CREATED AN INFORMATIONAL GUIDE TO SPANISH-FOR-FOREIGNERS SCHOOLS IN THE PROVINCE OF MÁLAGA.
The guide, available on the Tourism Board’s Web site (www.visitacostadelsol.com), is currently only in Spanish, but a spokesperson told Costa del Sol News that an English version will be available in the coming weeks.
The guide includes information about schools located in several Costa towns. The majority, 17 schools, are in the capital city, but there are also centres in Alhaurín de la Torre (1), Benalmádena (2), Fuengirola (2), Marbella (4) and Nerja (3). For each school, the guide provides practical information such as the types of courses offered, prices, class sizes, total number of students and a percentage breakdown of students by nationality, as well as accommodations options offered by the school.
A BOOST FOR LANGUAGE TOURISM
The Tourism Board intends the guide as a tool to promote so-called language tourism, which it views as an important and growing component of the Costa tourism industry. It says that annually 36,000 foreign students come to study Spanish in the province– second only to Salamanca – representing around 100 million euros in revenues.
The students spend more money per day than average tourists, says the Tourism Board, putting their spending at between 150 and 250 euros a day, not just at the school where they are studying, but also at local shops and establishments.
Germans make up the greatest portion of foreign Spanish students, at 40 per cent, followed by Scandinavians, while Britons represent about 10 per cent, according to the Tourism Board. It says that since the year 2000 language tourism has been growing at an annual rate of 9 per cent.
Axarquía avocados threatened
By Dave Jamieson
After warnings that the Axarquía will return a poor grape harvest and a lower yield of raisins this year, comes news of a threat to avocados. Farmers and growers have been alarmed by the appearance of an unknown whitish coloured mite which has appeared on some plantations around Almayate. The insect causes the partial or complete defoliation of the avocado tree so that the fruit, without the protection offered by the leaves, becomes damaged by excessive exposure to the sun. The Málaga agricultural association Asaja last week expressed concern that the Ministry of Agriculture had not provided for the early detection and identification of the mite nor taken steps to prevent it spreading. Asaja also claimed that no treatment to combat the insect, which was first seen in early August, had been developed.
While waiting for official identification of the insect, Asaja says it suspects it is a similar problem to one with origins in Latin America which caused a serious plague in California in 1990 and was identified in Israel in 2001. The Axarquía will produce 55,000 tons of avocados this year, 40,000 tons of which will be exported, in a market with an estimated worth of 66 million euros.