News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol
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Week March 17th to March 23rd 2005.
COSTA’S HUGE MONEY SCAM
Banks under spotlight in Europe’s biggest money laundering purge
By David Eade
SPANISH INVESTIGATORS DETAINED 41 PEOPLE INCLUDING A LEADING MARBELLA LAWYER, HIS STAFF AND THREE NOTARIES ACCUSED OF ORGANISING ONE OF THE LARGEST MONEY LAUNDERING NETWORKS IN EUROPE.
The lawyer, Fernando Del Valle, who is the head of a law firm bearing his own name, is believed by police to be the brains behind a massive money-laundering network. The Spanish media have talked of a fraud worth 250 million euros but international reports state that the police believe the total might be as high as 600 million euros.
By the time the Costa del Sol News went to print 10 of the 41 detainees were being held in prison. Del Valle and his secretary who have been held incommunicado since their arrest were questioned for the first time by the investigating judge, Miguel Angel Torres, on Monday night. Del Valle continues to be held with the others in prison in Alhaurín de la Torre although his secretary was released in the early hours of Tuesday morning on 30,000 euros bail.
THE HALIFAX CLEARED
On the same day it emerged that police are now investigating three bank branches where people detained in the case held safe deposit boxes. There is no suggestion that the British bank, the Halifax, is under investigation although the Banco Halifax website did recommend Del Valle Abogados to its clients on its property investment page. The website now carries the message “Please note Banco Halifax no longer recommends this firm.”
OPERATION ‘WHITE WHALE’
The operation ‘Ballena Blanca’, or ‘White Whale’, is being carried out by the Spanish police in co-operation with forces from all over Europe. Amongst those arrested in the Interpol and Europol coordinated raids were nationals from France, Finland, Morocco, Russia, Ukraine as well as Spain. It is alleged that Del Valle set up a network of property and front companies whose traces are hidden in offshore accounts including Gibraltar. International criminal gangs laundered their proceeds from drug trafficking, prostitution and luxury car theft through companies set up by the lawyer.
The monies were invested in the booming property and construction market on the Costa del Sol. Investigators have embargoed over 250 properties, including two complete urbanizations in San Pedro de Alcántara and Manilva. Also seized were two private planes, a Puerto Banús moored yacht and 42 luxury cars.
Costa del Sol fake-cop robbers caught
Police recover 16 stolen cars
By Oliver McIntyre
IN A POLICE OPERATION THAT INVOLVED A TOTAL OF 12 ARRESTS IN DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE COUNTRY, FIVE SUSPECTS HAVE BEEN DETAINED IN THE COSTA DEL SOL AREA, SOME OF WHOM ARE ACCUSED OF IMPERSONATING POLICE OFFICERS TO ROB TOURISTS ALONG THE A-7 MOTORWAY.
The crime gang, which operated in Madrid, several cities in the north of Spain and on the Costa del Sol, specialised in breaking into garages and robbing expensive cars or stealing items from their interiors. On the Costa del Sol, at least three members of the group allegedly carried out fake-police robberies on the motorway, in one case using flashing lights to pull over two Gibraltar residents and steal £42,000 from them.
In all, the gang is believed to have stolen around 30 vehicles and broken into another 120. Police recovered 16 of the stolen cars, as well as the £42,000 stolen from the two Gibraltar residents.
ARRESTS IN MARBELLA AND BENALMÁDENA
Three alleged members of the gang were arrested in Marbella, two in Benalmádena’s Arroyo de la Miel and the rest in Madrid and Pueblo Nuevo de Guadiaro (Cádiz). Two other members of the gang were arrested back in September in Burgos, a city about two hours north of Madrid by car, where numerous garage break-ins had occurred.
Lengthy delays for residency documents
By David Eade
Foreign residents wishing to take out residency cards or renew their existing ones are facing lengthy queues at the Fuengirola National Police station.
The department dealing with applications is open from Monday to Friday between 09.00 and 13.00 but many people are arriving as early as 08.00 to ensure that they are at the head of the day’s queue.
Reports of foreign residents having to wait up to three hours to be attended to are not uncommon, others have been told to return the next day after the foreigner’s department staff were unable to attend to everybody within the allotted hours.
A lack of staff in the residency department seems to be the main cause of the delays. Usually there are only two or three staff on duty, which is insufficient to handle the applications or answer the questions of the 80 or more people who attend each morning.
There also seems to be mounting concern at the length of time it is taking to receive the residency cards. At one time cards could be produced in between two to three months. Now the norm seems to be five to six months whilst there are reported cases of a year’s wait.
Eileen Davenport who recently moved from Winchester to Fuengirola told Costa del Sol News that she had attended the Fuengirola National Police station and stated: “I waited two hours to receive the necessary application forms for myself and my family. I then went back to hand in the completed applications but after waiting 90 minutes gave up and went to our ‘gestor’ instead.”
Busy foreign residence department too
Foreigners are not only flocking to the police station but the Town Hall’s foreign residents department too. The councillor responsible, José Sánchez, stated that 925 people used the department’s services in February, which is an average of 48.68 a day. The majority of the visits, 758, were from British and Irish residents and visitors. The second and third highest users were Finnish nationals and Danes.
Briton faces eight years in prison
Charges stem from illegal land use in rural area of Tarifa
By David Eade
BRITON NICHOLAS JAMES BYSTROM WELLS-HUNT HAS APPEARED BEFORE THE CÁDIZ PROVINCIAL COURT IN ALGECIRAS ON CHARGES RELATING TO BREAKING PLANNING LAWS AND ENDANGERING WILDLIFE. IF HE IS FOUND GUILTY, THE PROSECUTOR HAS CALLED FOR AN EIGHT-YEAR PRISON SENTENCE.
Wells-Hunt is the owner of a rustic property at Sierra Plata in Tarifa, an environmentally protected zone because of the various species of vulture and other birds that nest and breed there. The prosecution alleges that in April 2002 the Briton, after having drilled for water, built a rubble hut to protect the well and also installed a 30-square metre prefabricated wooden house on the site.
The prosecutor is arguing that these actions by Wells-Hunt have caused “important damage” to the colony of birds in the zone and “irreversible damage” to the protected space that forms part of the Estrecho National Park.
Wells-Hunt has denied the charges that he damaged the environment. He has admitted drilling the well and that this would have caused noise, but no more noise than is present in the country anyway, he argues. He says the hut is only made of brick and the prefabricated house has not damaged the land because there is no cement. The dwelling has neither electricity nor a chimney, so its affect on the environment is minimal, he says.
Residents' homes threatend by rural track widening
More than 50 local residents stage protests and draw up legal complaints
By David Eade
ON MONDAY AT 10.30 AROUND 50 LOCAL RESIDENTS PEACEFULLY CONFRONTED REGIONAL GOVERNMENT ENGINEERS AS THEY MEASURED UP THE VIA PECUARIA DE IGUALEJA IN ESTEPONA.
They were protesting at the plan to widen the track to a width of 20.86 metres that in at least one case would lead to a British resident loosing part of his family home.
The Via Pecuaria de Igualeja is a rural track that runs from Estepona to Igualeja of which around 11 kilometres runs through the municipality of Estepona. Regional government wishes to widen the track to 20.86 metres, a legal requirement that was laid down in 1967. Its intention is to re-open the route to promote rural tourism by encouraging walkers and cyclists to use it.
Needless to say widening the track to 20.86 metres will mean that many people along the route will be forced to give up land and in some cases part of their homes as well. Some of the affected residents had drawn up a document to make a legal complaint against the track-widening scheme and it was signed by all those who took part in the protest.
The residents claim that regional government has itself broken the law regarding the Via Pecuaria by allowing the Estepona ring road to cut across it without the provision of a 20.86 metre tunnel or bridge. Furthermore they argue that the 1967 provision for a 20.86 metre width does not meet modern day needs and is far more than is necessary to accommodate cyclists and walkers.
Urgent call for MA-9002 road upgrade
By Oliver McIntyre
Alhaurín de la Torre Town Hall is taking to the Diputación de Málaga (provincial government) a motion calling for “the urgent and immediate repair” of the MA-9002 road by the Junta de Andalucía (regional government). According to the Town Hall, the Diputación already passed a measure in February of last year calling on the Junta to take possession of the road from the then water authority, CHS, which owned it, and to upgrade the road, possibly even widening it for additional lanes. The jurisdiction of CHS has since been transferred the Junta’s Environment Department in the form of the new water authority Cuenca Mediterránea del Sur, meaning the MA-9002 is now in the Junta’s control. However, no action has been taken on the road, which is in a dangerously deteriorated state, according to the Town Hall.
Noting that the MA-9002 (Carretera Cártama Churriana) was originally a rural and agricultural road, the Town Hall says it is in no condition to support the constant traffic it receives today. Urban Planning councillor Gerardo Velasco stated: “There is absolutely no reason for this work not to be done. There have already been over a hundred complaints and demands for compensation by drivers whose vehicles have been damaged due to the hundreds of potholes.” If the condition of the MA-9002 is not addressed, he said, “the Junta will be solely responsible for any fatal accident that might occur due to [the road’s] deteriorated state.”
Guadalhorce Pro-Hospital Platform gets ball rollin
NEWS Staff Reporter
The recently formed Pro-Regional Hospital Platform of the Guadalhorce Valley (CDSN, Mar. 10 – 16) has already begun to take action, with representatives meeting last week with the provincial government’s ombudsman, Francisco Gutiérrez. Following the meeting, Sr Gutiérrez promised to take the platform’s request for a hospital to the regional government ombudsman, José Chamizo, in a meeting scheduled for today in Sevilla. “There is a clear and objective claim of the need for better health services for all residents of the Guadalhorce Valley,” said Sr Gutierréz. He said that in his meeting today he would request that the regional ombudsman raise the topic in the Andalucía Parliament.
Coinciding with today’s meeting between the two ombudsmen, the Pro-Regional Hospital platform itself has scheduled an assembly in Pizarra to strategise its public-information and signature-gathering campaigns, among other things.
The platform is composed of some 40 associations and organisations, along with several political parties and town halls. Its goal is to lobby for a true regional hospital for the Guadalhorce Valley, saying the CARE diagnostic and treatment centre that is to be built in Cártama is insufficient to meet the healthcare needs of the area. Platform member and Pizarra Mayor Zacarías Gómez says a regional hospital would benefit not just Guadalhorce Valley residents, but also the rest of Málaga by taking pressure off the capital’s Hospital Clínico Universitario.
Benalmadena town hall to be audited
Mayor's team 'welcomes' move
By Oliver McIntyre
FOLLOWING A REQUEST BY ALL THREE OPPOSITION PARTIES AT BENALMÁDENA TOWN HALL (PARTIDO POPULAR, IZQUIERDA UNIDA AND THE SOCIALIST PSOE), THE REGIONAL GOVERNMENT'S AUDIT COMMISSION HAS ANNOUNCED PLANS FOR A DETAILED AUDIT THE TOWN HALL'S FINANCES.
The commission performs routine annual reviews of the accounts of all the town halls in Andalucía, but this special audit is a more comprehensive, in-depth inspection.
The Audit Commission has stated that there is "no specific reason for this audit," and that Benalmádena Town Hall was selected as one of numerous entities to be audited after the selection committee reviewed "the hundreds of requests for audits the commission receives each year."
By law, the commission must inform the Town Hall at least 10 days prior to the actual audit begins. Once it does, the auditors are to be given full access to all pertinent Town Hall materials and documentation. In carrying out its work, the commission may contract the service of private auditing companies. So far, no specific start date or timeline for the audit has been announced.
The opposition parties requested the audit due to what they consider irregularities in the economic management of Mayor Enrique Bolín's government. In the past, individual opposition parties had requested such an audit, but this was the first time all three groups banded together to request it in unison.
Following the announcement of the audit, the mayor's governing team said it welcomed the move, and insisted that it was not brought on by the request of the opposition parties. "We're very happy the commission has finally decided to audit the municipal accounts," said spokesman Manuel Crespo. "Every so often each town hall's accounts need to be reviewed in detail, and this year it's our turn," he said, indicating that Benalmádena Town Hall was randomly selected for the special audit.
Nerja acts on feral feeding
By Dave Jamieson
Nerja Town Hall has dismantled a feeding point for feral cats set up one on of its beaches. A group of animal lovers installed the facility on the town's Calahonda Beach, but it was quickly removed by local authorities. The councillor responsible for beaches and gardens, José Miguel García, said that a local by-law and an Andalucían law both prohibit feeding animals in public areas for health reasons and to discourage the population of strays. According to Sr García, the feeding stations, which were installed without Town Hall permission, have been used by the public as rubbish bins.
The idea of central feeding points for feral cats came from another group, the Costa Animal Society (CAS). This established local charity has successfully installed "cat cafés" on private land at three points in Nerja - at the Monica Hotel, Hotel Avalon, and the Tropicana urbanisation - enabling the local feline population to be monitored for illness, fed daily with dry food and water, and spayed as necessary. The Town Hall has recently erected warning signs around the town as reminders that it is prohibited to feed strays, following complaints about the presence of animals attracted by the food left out for them and about the smell from food which has gone off. Fines for those ignoring the regulation can be up to 120 euros.
CAS says that the success of the "cat cafés" on private land should be taken as a practical example of how the whole municipality could benefit by their installation in public areas. CAS has dissociated itself from the group whose installation was removed from Calahonda beach but has applied to the Town Hall for permission to expand the "cat café" idea into public areas of the town centre where the feral population can be a nuisance, although the group fully expects permission to be denied for the reasons given by Councillor García.
Local fishermen say that the presence of feral cats on the town's beaches is a long-held tradition, because they help to keep down the rat population which would otherwise destroy fishing nets. Some even go so far as to predict that eliminating the cats altogether would lead to an explosion in the number of the rodents.
Málaga wooes cruise tourist
Town Hall develops ten tourist trails
By Dave Jamieson
MÁLAGA HAS RELEASED NEW PLANS TO PERSUADE CRUISE LINER PASSENGERS TO SPEND MORE TIME IN THE CITY.
At present, only half those who disembark at the port of Málaga spend any time visiting the capital's attractions, the remainder preferring to travel to popular destinations including Granada, Ronda and the Nerja Caves. Following a study of sea-borne visitors, the Town Hall has developed ten tourist trails which will be recommended to them ahead of docking in an effort to increase those exploring the city by 20 per cent.
The initiative, launched last week by Mayor Francisco de la Torre and tourism councillor Antonio Urda, "underlines the attractions" of Málaga with "specific routes" designed for those with high spending potential, a sector which has been increasing in recent years. The project has been welcomed by cruise operators, said the Mayor, and would be publicised at tourism fairs, including Seatrade in Miami which is in progress this week.
"Artistic and historic Málaga" guides visitors round the Picasso Museum, the painter's birthplace and other places of interest in the heart of the old town, while "Green Málaga" provides a guide to the gardens at La Concepción and the city centre's famous Paseo del Parque. "Prehistoric Málaga" points to Antequera and its dolmens, and "Málaga from the air" provides an aerial view of the city from a helicopter. Other activities include a cycle tour of the city centre, horse riding in the Montes de Málaga natural park, visits to wine bodegas and a demonstration of flamenco.
Sr de la Torre took trouble to assure other tourist destinations in the area that Málaga was not seeking to decrease their visitor counts from cruise liners, saying that in the competitive market which exists in the cruise sector, Málaga must retain its "strategic position" in the Mediterranean. Last week, another company, the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), announced it was considering Málaga as a new base for its liners, a move which would boost the total of 200 liners already expected to dock at Málaga during this year. Louis Cruises have also confirmed that they will occupy a berth in the port from July 10 to late October. January and February recorded 30,500 cruise passengers on board vessels in Málaga port, 17 per cent up up on the first two months of last year, and a record 220,000 arrivals is expected by the year end.
Cómpeta video causes political row
By News Staff Reporter
A row has broken out in Cómpeta over a new video promoting the town's tourist attractions. Opposition councillors allege that the Town Hall paid 30,000 euros to a relation of the Culture Councillor for the film's production, but that it does not reflect the town's character accurately. They say that the sister of councillor María Kupers was hired to develop a promotional video for tourists, but, according to José Moyano of the main opposition party, the PSA, it attempts to compare Cómpeta to Mijas but fails to "capture the essence of the town's culture, which is the wine". They have asked to see all the Town Hall documentation relating to the video's production and say that they do not considerate appropriate that the Council should entrust such a project to the sister of a member of the governing team. The councillor involved has, however, disputed the cost of the video, and says the involvement of her sister was limited, stating that she simply works for the agency which was contracted to produce the film. María Kupers also dismissed claims that the video did not reflect the true nature of the town, saying that it had been produced in four languages to provide "information to tour operators in order to convince them that Cómpeta is the ideal destination for excursions and holidays".
Cómpeta is presently part-way through an important year for its tourist sector. May marks the 500th anniversary of the establishment of its parish church, la Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, for which reason the Vatican has declared a Holy Year of Jubilee in the municipality, the first time that the honour has come to Andalucía since it was instituted by Pope Boniface VIII in 1300. This gives the town a unique opportunity to promote itself to the world with dozens of coaches of pilgrims expected to arrive in the town each week.
Point-system driver's licences delayed
By Oliver McIntyre
THE SPANISH GOVERNMENT, WHICH HAD PLANNED TO INTRODUCE NEW POINT-SYSTEM DRIVER'S LICENCES BY THIS SUMMER, HAS NOW ANNOUNCED THAT THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE SCHEME WILL BE DELAYED UNTIL THE END OF THE YEAR.
The delay is due to the complexity of designing and implementing the new system, says Pere Navarro, the head of the national Traffic Authority.
Under the new system, drivers will have 12 points on their licence and will lose points for traffic infractions - and ultimately lose their licence if all the points are lost. Since the draft legislation for the new system was introduced, some 196 amendments have been submitted by different political groups. The finalised legislation is not expected to make it to Parliament for official passage until May at the earliest. So while "the commitment to have it passed before summer will be met," says Sr Navarro, the complex process of implementing the programme means that it won't actually take effect until around the end of the year.
SPEED CONTROL RADARS
Meanwhile, the Traffic Authority has announced plans for the installation of 25 new speed-control radars on Spanish motorways before summer and a total of 125 new radars by the end of the year. The installation of radars will continue over the next couple of years, with a total of 500 planned by the end of 2007. The goal of the radars is to "reduce by 10 per cent the number of traffic deaths by controlling speeding, create a demand for speed-limiting devices on vehicles and free up Guardia Civil officers for other duties," according to Sr Navarro.
The Traffic Authority is also looking at the possibility of raising the minimum age for riding scooter-type motorbikes, from 16 to 18. In addition, it is studying minimum-age requirements for driving lorries. No firm proposals or dates for such changes have been announced.
Health card computer chaos
NEWS Staff Reporter
Patients can no longer get an appointment to see a doctor within the Andalucía Health Service (SAS) unless they have a health card ('tarjeta sanitaria'). The health cards have been in use now for years, but many patients are for the first time suffering the consequences of not having signed up for one, instead relying on their data being in the computer system. That worked up until recently, when SAS's new computer system, known as Diraya, came online in Málaga and some other provinces. Those who have not taken out a health card do not appear in the database of the new system.
When a patient without a health card goes to a clinic seeking a medical appointment, the data does not come up on the computer and the person will not be given an appointment until they fill out the necessary forms to take out a health card, say officials. The person's data and medical history still exist in the old computer system, but are not connected into the new system until they take out the health card.
In some cases, the switchover to the new Diraya computer system has left people out of the database even if they do have a health card. Officials say that in some instances health centre staff may not find a patient in the computer, due to a lack of coordination between the central database and the local systems at the health centres. However, they assure that all the data still exists in the old system and is accessible by the health centres.