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Week April 7th to April 13th 2005.
EC BACKS COSTA TAXES
Non registered foreign residents ‘do not face tax discrimination’
By Oliver McIntyre
THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION HAS ISSUED A FINDING STATING THAT THE MUNICIPAL-TAX SUBSIDY SYSTEM USED BY SOME COSTA TOWNS IS NOT DISCRIMINATORY AGAINST FOREIGN RESIDENTS.
The finding was issued by Taxation and Customs Union Commissioner László Kovács in a written response to a Parliamentary Question submitted last November by British conservative MEPs Charles Tannock and Theresa Villiers. The British MEPs had specifically referenced Torremolinos Town Hall’s scheme of offering registered (‘empadronado’) residents of the town subsidies to offset increases in local real-estate taxes or water and rubbish collection fees, leaving only non-registered residents and second-home owners to pay the tax increases.
In his response Commissioner Kovács indicated that, after consulting with Spanish authorities, the commission found that the taxation scheme is not discriminatory because it applies equally to foreigners and Spanish citizens alike. Because both Spanish and non-Spanish homeowners are faced with the same tax increases, as well as the same criteria for receiving the subsidy to offset the increases, foreigners are not being discriminated against and no European anti-discrimination laws are being broken, he found.
EUROPEAN MP NOT HAPPY
“I am very disappointed by the ruling from Commissioner Kovács,” MEP Tannock told Costa del Sol News. “I suspect that relatively few Spaniards have second homes on the Costa and this situation applies mainly to foreigners, but this is only my guess and we would need reliable statistics if we are to make this point in a follow-up question regarding the concept of indirect discrimination.” He remains convinced that “shifting the tax burden onto a non-voting, disenfranchised, non-full-time-resident population should be perceived as a natural injustice and local Spanish politicians should be made accountable for this fact.”
TOWN HALLS ARGUE BACK
Torremolinos first launched its programme of offering registered residents subsidies to offset some tax or fee increases as far back as 1995. Other Costa towns, such as Benalmádena and Fuengirola, followed suit beginning in 2003. The town halls argue that the scheme is aimed at encouraging people who own homes and live in the town to officially register (‘empadronar’) as residents. Because some governmental financing provided to town halls is based on registered population, the existence of large numbers of non-registered residents, the majority of whom happen to be foreigners, results in under-funding for a wide range of public services, say the town halls.
Thousands caught in fake bank e-mail fraud
As many as 154 Cajamar branches in Málaga affected by the scam
By Dave Jamieson
A BANKING CONSUMER GROUP SAYS IT NOW BELIEVES THAT MORE THAN 10,000 PEOPLE IN THE REGION MAY HAVE BEEN AFFECTED BY A FRAUD INVOLVING A MAJOR REGIONAL BANK, ADDING THAT THE BANK IS “OBLIGED” TO REFUND ANY FUNDS WHICH HAVE BEEN STOLEN.
The Association of Bank Services Users (Ausbanc) says that thousands of clients of Cajamar responded to a fake e-mail asking them to confirm their account details, although it will be some time before a final total is known. 153 branches in the province of Málaga are understood to have been affected in the scam, popularly known as “phishing”, in which clients unwittingly give the fraudsters access to their bank accounts. Other banks, including Banco Popular, Banesto and BBVA, have previously been victims of similar operations.
According to reports, Cajamar clients began receiving e-mails on March 22 stating that their bank account had been “selected for verification” with the intention of “protecting our clients against fraud”. The e-mail went on to state that, if the account details were not confirmed within 24 hours, the account would be blocked. Investigators say that thousands of such e-mails would have been sent out indiscriminately, fuelled by addresses found in each individual’s computer address book.
Cajamar has now advised users of its electronic banking services that it never asks for any personal details, passwords or access codes which would permit criminals to make fraudulent use of the account. The bank added that clients should never respond to such e-mails, but delete them without responding.
BANKS ‘OBLIGED’ TO COMPENSATE VICTIMS
An Ausbanc spokesman said that banks which fell victim to “phishing” were “obliged” to recompense account holders who lost money as a result. The group’s Málaga delegate, Alfredo Martínez, said that any client who found an account had been raided by such a fraud, “had the right to reclaim the amount stolen from the bank.” He added that banks needed to invest more in security, accompanied by making their clients aware of the dangers of exchanging sensitive information via the Internet.
Revelation of the size of the latest “phishing” scam in Spain came as the country’s banks were reported to have increased charges and commissions to clients by around 16 per cent last year. The World Retail Banking Report 2005 analysed 130 banks in 19 countries and published its findings last week. According to their data, the 13 Spanish banks included in the survey charged customers an average 108 euros per year, up 15 euros from the year before. Four basic services were considered – maintaining an account, methods of payment, handling cash, and operations which are regarded as extras or non-routine – and the charges put Spain a little below the average of 130 euros in all the countries analysed.
Guadalhorce hospital platform plans protests
By Oliver McIntyre
The Pro-Regional Hospital Platform of the Guadalhorce Valley met last week in Pizarra to plan its strategy for putting pressure on the Junta de Andalucía’s Health Department to create a full-fledged regional hospital in the Guadalhorce. Out of the meeting came plans for the collection of at least 5,000 signatures, as well as plans for several protests in towns throughout the Guadalhorce region.
The platform has scheduled protests in Tolox (April 8), Pizarra (April 15), Alhaurín de la Torre (April 20), Alhaurín el Grande (April 22) and Cártama (April 29). In addition, it will organise a protest group to march in Málaga’s Labour Day parade in on May 1.
At last week’s meeting in Pizarra, some 40 representatives from different towns in the Guadalhorce were present, according to platform spokespeople. Included were socialist PSOE mayors, a significant point for platform leaders, as the PSOE (‘Partido Socialista Obrero Español’) is also the ruling party of the Junta de Andalucía regional government, which is the political body being lobbied for the concession of the hospital.
Many of the mayors in the Guadalhorce Valley pointed to the recent death of a heart attack victim in Alhaurín el Grande, whom the Town Hall says waited 45 minutes for an ambulance to arrive (CDSN, Mar. 31 – Apr. 6), as further proof of the need for a regional hospital with its own emergency service. (The Andalucía Health Service has disputed the slow arrival time, saying an ambulance was on the scene 19 minutes after the call was received.)
Meeting for April 12
Alhaurín el Grande Town Hall has called a meeting of the Pro-Hospital Platform for April 12 at 20.30 in the town’s Casa de la Cultura. Announcing the meeting and stressing the importance of the hospital, Health councillor Sebastián Burgos García said: “We’re talking about the health of Guadalhorce residents, who have the same healthcare needs as any other resident of the province – so why does every other region have a hospital and we don’t?”
Russian judge joins ‘white whale’ investigation
By David Eade
A Russian judge and police official has visited Málaga to exchange information with the National Police and the provincial court in the ‘Ballena Blanca’ – ‘White Whale’ money laundering investigation.
The Russian delegation was made up of judge Farik Ganiev and colonel of police Leovrov Serguei. They were accompanied to Málaga by a National Police officer from Madrid.
Spanish police are investigating a Gibraltar based company allegedly formed by Mijaíl Jodorkovski the founder of Yukos, the Russian petroleum giant. Jodorkovski is currently in prison in Russia having been found guilty of tax evasion and falsifying of public documents.
The Russians are said to have made clear to their Spanish counterparts their willingness to collaborate in the ‘Ballena Blanca’ investigation and to hand over information on Jodorkovski whose Gibraltar company has been described as very important. The Spanish are also working with the Dutch authorities to examine the links between those accused in the money laundering operation and that country.
The La Línea links
Meanwhile the Campo de Gibraltar press is ploughing its own furrow in trying to unearth links between René Pierre Elbaz and La Línea Town Hall and its Mayor Juan Carlos Juarez. Elbaz, who was arrested in Sotogrande, is one of those held in Alhaurín de la Torre prison with the alleged mastermind behind the money laundering scam Marbella-based lawyer Fernando del Valle.
In the past week it has been revealed that Alleerton Holdings, which has property interests at La Alcaidesa and is linked to both del Valle and Elbaz, sponsored the Míster España contest in La Línea in July 2001. In addition there are allegations that the Mayor’s wife, María del Mar Bermúdez, has benefited by being employed by Alleerton Holdings.
Car fire attack
Samuel Fernández, the director of Radio Bahía, has reported to the Guardia Civil an attempt to fire bomb his car. The incident happened at 23.00 when his car was parked outside the family home at Puente Mayorga in San Roque. Sr Fernández says he is convinced that the attack was an act of vengeance because of his investigations in to the ‘Ballena Blanca’ operation in La Línea.
Banana Beach development faces demolition
By David Eade
AS REPORTED IN LAST WEEK’S COSTA DEL SOL NEWS THE ANDALUCÍA COURT HAS FOUND THE FORMER MAYOR OF MARBELLA, JULIÁN MUÑOZ, AND SIX FORMER GIL COUNCILLORS, GUILTY OF BREAKING THE TOWN PLANNING LAWS BY ALLOWING THE CONSTRUCTION OF 238 HOMES AT BANANA BEACH, WHICH IS ZONED FOR NON-URBAN USE.
Now regional government’s minister of public works and transport, Concepción Gutiérrez, has made it clear that once the Supreme Court ratifies the ruling she will seek an order to have all the homes demolished. The minister insisted that if Marbella is to be a town of quality then it is important that its green zones are protected and not built on.
A court ruled in April last year that the Banana Beach development was illegal and that has now been reinforced by the guilty verdicts and prison sentences handed out to the GIL governing team that approved the development.
Sra Gutiérrez has made it clear that the legal 1986 town-planning ordinance must be upheld hence the determination to make an example of the Banana Beach development by having it demolished despite the fact that the homes are now occupied. Also in the minister’s firing line is the present Marbella administration, which she accuses of continuing with the GIL policies and impeding the court’s rulings.
BANDERAS TO THE RESCUE
Málaga-born Hollywood star, Antonio Banderas, has indicated that he is willing to support an international campaign to promote Marbella and the Costa del Sol in general. The actor has recently met with the regional government’s tourism minister, Paulino Plata, at a Marbella restaurant over Easter to discuss the project.
Banderas stated that he agreed with the views of the majority of Marbella’s residents that the recent high-profile ‘White Whale’ money laundering case would not damage the image of the jet-set resort. He added that Marbella was a town that was totally dedicated to tourism, had much to offer and he was happy to defend it.
New Paseos for Rincón…
By Dave Jamieson
As Rincón de la Victoria marked the first anniversary of the devastating floods which hit the town last spring, a completion date for its remodelled Paseo Marítimo was announced.
At the end of March 2004, downpours of up to 250 litres per square metre in a single afternoon caused water to pour down from the surrounding hillsides and through the town towards the sea. However, a retaining wall prevented it then draining off onto the beach and forced it back into the town, causing damage to a thousand buildings, the town’s infrastructure and 700 vehicles, with repairs estimated at many millions of euros.
In the intervening 12 months, many steps have been taken to avoid a repetition of the disaster which, amazingly, resulted in no loss of life. Now, the coastal walkway is likely to be completely re-opened by the end of this month with 19 new drainage channels in place to allow flood water to reach the sea. Amongst other improvements, 900 metres of the wall which caused the problems have been removed, and a 3.2 kilometre cycle track has been completed, along with garden areas. The repairs and upgrade have cost the town about three million euros.
Meanwhile at nearby Benejarafe, the town’s new Paseo has been unveiled. The 1,200 metres walkway is 15 metres across at its widest, and is surrounded by 5,800 square metres of gardens. The total cost of the project was almost 1.4 million euros.
Go ahead for Estepona port enlargement
By David Eade
THE ANDALUCÍA PORT AUTHORITY (EPPA) HAS WRITTEN TO THE MAYOR OF ESTEPONA, ANTONIO BARRIENTOS, TO STATE THAT IT WILL AUTHORISE THE ENLARGEMENT OF THE EXISTING RECREATIONAL PORT SUBJECT TO CERTAIN CONDITIONS.
EPPA director, Monserrat Badía, stated that the area covered by the extension could total up to 300,000 square metres and in addition there could be a land extension of 7,500 square metres for support services. It is envisaged that the enlargement would create enough moorings to house more than 600 yachts but the creation of a deep-sea zone to accommodate cruisers was not seen as a priority.
There are a number of conditions that would apply to the enlargement project. It must occupy an area that is currently taken up by the sea and most not occupy more of the coastline that is presently delineated by the promenade. In addition the existing beaches must be preserved.
The Mayor of Estepona has stated his satisfaction at the EPPA decision and has stated that the Town Hall will adapt the existing extension plan as quickly as possible to take in to account the authority’s demands and re-submit it for final approval. Currently Estepona Port has only 433 moorings and a waiting list of up to 200 people. If all goes to plan the new port would have in excess of 1,000 moorings.
SALE OF PORT LAND REJECTED
The long continuing dispute over the future of the parcel of land between Estepona’s recreational port and the Playa del Cristo known as the “Explanada ganada al mar” is set to continue. The regional government has ruled that the plan to sell it to the property company Marín Hillinger without a public auction contravenes the town planning rules and is in violation of the law regulating town-planning ordination in Andalucía (LOUA).
The land was sold to Marín Hillinger during the GIL era after the ownership had been transferred to a municipal company. Later a new Town Hall administration annulled the sale and a final end to the resulting dispute appeared to be in sight when in December 2003 the Town Hall agreed to sell Marín Hillinger the land without a public auction for 9 million euros.
The deal was dependent on the regional government approving of the scheme, which has now not been forthcoming. One problem is that Marín Hillinger has already paid to Estepona Town Hall 40 per cent of the sale price, a sum that was included in the municipality’s 2004 budget. The regional government’s ruling will be welcomed by local residents who formed the association for the defence of the playa del Cristo (Adepla) to oppose the land’s sale and development.
'Artic Sunrise' in Algeciras
Greenpeace launches new campaign
By David Eade
THE GREENPEACE VESSEL 'ARTIC SUNRISE' HAS ENTERED ALGECIRAS PORT AND OVER THE COMING DAYS WILL CARRY OUT A CAMPAIGN AGAINST SINGLE HULL VESSELS INCLUDING TANKERS. THESE VESSELS WERE BANNED FROM EUROPEAN WATERS BY A EU DECREE THAT CAME INTO FORCE ON APRIL 5.
The decree has been agreed by both the EU and the International Maritime Organisation (OMI). It also makes provision for the eradication of all these vessels by 2015. The EU was moved to act against these vessels after the environmental catastrophe caused by the sinking of the 'Erikka' and 'Prestige'.
The 'Artic Sunrise' flies the Dutch flag, has a Spanish captain and a crew of 17. The vessel sailed to Algeciras after spending a month in Huelva where it undertook a campaign to highlight the environmental damage to the mouth of the río Tinto and the Huelva city area that it classified as being a disaster of international proportions.
Whilst in Algeciras the 'Artic Sunrise' will mount a different campaign to see if the EU law on single hull vessels is being complied with or not. The single hull tankers are deemed a danger because only one barrier lies between their oil cargo and the sea.
Greenpeace claims that the Bay of Algeciras has been converted in to the petrol station of the Mediterranean. According to the organisations data between 4,000 and 5,000 petrol tankers pass through the Straits of Gibraltar each year which is an average of between 10 and 15 a day. Greenpeace will be ensuring that the Algeciras port authority is aware of its obligations under the new law and will also seek out offending vessels.
Spain mourns Pope
Spanish cardinal in charge until new Pope is elected
By David Eade
THE FINAL DAYS OF POPE JOHN PAUL II'S REIGN WERE RELAYED TO THE WORLD BY TWO SPANIARDS. IT FELL TO JOAQUÍN NAVARRO VALLS, THE LAY PAPAL SPOKESMAN AND A LEADING FIGURE IN THE OPUS DEI MOVEMENT, TO BRIEF THE WORLD'S MEDIA ON THE PONTIFF'S RAPIDLY DECLINING HEALTH.
However it was Eduardo Martínez Somalo, the Vatican's chamberlain or 'camarlengo', who made the official announcement of the Pope's passing and who will now run the Vatican until a new pope is appointed.
Cardinal Somalo was born in Baño de Río Tobias, in La Rioja in 1927. He was appointed 'camarlengo' by John Paul II in 1993 and has been in charge of the Papal household ever since. Part of the cardinal's official duties were to first go through the ancient rituals to establish that the pontiff had died including calling out his baptismal name three times and hitting him on the forehead with a silver hammer. Later the silver hammer was used to smash the Papal ring worn by John Paul II and then to seal his apartments until the new pope is elected.
The Spanish cardinal is also responsible for making the arrangements for the pope's funeral that is being held on Friday at 10.00 and will be televised around the world. In Rome for the funeral will be eight Spanish cardinals but only Somalo and five others who are aged under 80 will go to the conclave of 117 electable cardinals to select the new pope. Both Somalo and the archbishop of Madrid, cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela, have been mentioned as possible candidates for the new papacy.
After the announcement of the Pope's death Spain joined the rest of the world in mourning the revered pontiff. A day of official mourning was declared in the capitals of both Málaga and Cádiz province and the mayor of Málaga, Francisco de la Torre sent an official letter of condolence to the Spanish Papal Nuncio, Manuel Monteiro. The president of the regional government, Manuel Chaves, also declared an official day of mourning and all flags on public buildings were flown at half-mast. He described John Paul II's passing as "an irreparable loss for all the world in general and in particular for all the catholic globe."
ROYALS TO ATTEND FUNERAL
Spain will be represented at the funeral by the Royal Family, who are said to have had a very close personal and spiritual relationship with the late pontiff. They will be accompanied by the Prime Minister José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero, various ministers and the leader of the Partido Popular opposition, Mariano Rajoy.
Search for HMS Sussex delayed
News Staff Reporter
Odyssey Marine Exploration, a leader in the field of deep ocean shipwreck exploration, has announced that it is temporarily suspending operations at the shipwreck site believed to be HMS Sussex for 15 days in order to allow the Spanish Government time to review the archaeological methods and administrative issues relating to the project and to discuss protocols for the exploration and protection of Spanish shipwrecks that Odyssey finds in the area or elsewhere throughout the world.
While the crew aboard Odyssey's 251' deep-ocean archaeological platform Odyssey Explorer, is waiting to return to the site believed to be the Sussex, they have begun the archaeological excavation of another shipwreck site in the western Mediterranean recently located by the crew of RV Odyssey, the Company's 113' research vessel. Additional information on this shipwreck will be released at a future date.
In September, 2004 the Company received assurance from Spain through the United States Department of State that the Spanish Government had "no desire or intention to prevent the salvage operation of the shipwreck believed to be HMS Sussex." Odyssey subsequently mobilized the Odyssey Explorer for operations on the Sussex project and has recently completed some of the preliminary pre-disturbance work at the site, calibration of acoustic equipment and testing of several newly installed archaeological excavation tools for the Sussex project. Odyssey insists that it has maintained a policy of cooperating with governments that have interests in its projects, whether by ownership, heritage or geographical proximity. The Sussex site lies in a very busy shipping lane which is monitored by Spain's Tarifa control centre for safety and traffic control purposes. One of the issues that recently surfaced has been another ship engaged in unauthorized shipwreck exploration activities in the area, as well as a different ship coincidentally called the RV Odyssey that has been engaged in unapproved activities in Spanish territorial waters. While neither of these ships have any association with Odyssey Marine Exploration, the unexpected confusion has prompted some unwarranted and inaccurate reports from the Spanish media, which Odyssey has sought to dispel through cooperation with the Spanish authorities.
"We'd obviously like to get to work as soon as possible on recovery operations on the Sussex", commented Greg Stemm, Odyssey's co-founder, after meetings in Madrid, "but Spain has indicated they have a real interest in learning more about the project, and want to see the archaeological methodologies we are employing. There has been no question that the shipwreck of the Sussex is the exclusive property of the United Kingdom, but with so many of their own shipwrecks scattered throughout the oceans of the world, it is not surprising that Spain has a profound interest in our activities here and that we would have an interest in working out a protocol for dealing with Spanish shipwrecks in the future."
More violence at Plaza Mayor
Youth brawl leaves two injured, one of them in a coma
By Oliver McIntyre
MÁLAGA’S PLAZA MAYOR ENTERTAINMENT CENTRE WAS THE SITE OF A VIOLENT BRAWL LAST WEEKEND, WITH ONE YOUNG MAN RECEIVING A STAB WOUND IN THE STOMACH AND ANOTHER SUFFERING A HEAD WOUND THAT LEFT HIM IN A COMA.
The incident occurred in the early-morning hours of Sunday, when two groups of youths got into a heated argument outside the entrance to one of the centre’s discos. The verbal fight soon turned physical, as a member of one of the groups rushed a member of the other group, who pulled out a knife and stabbed the oncoming assailant in the stomach, according to reported accounts. The stabbed individual, reportedly Moroccan, kept on fighting for several minutes before his group fled the scene to the parking lot, where they got a metal object out of a car trunk and then returned to the disco.
When they arrived back at the disco, the knife-wielding member of the other group attempted to flee up the stairs to the entrance of the disco. Finding the doors closed, he jumped over the stairway railing and fell to the ground, slamming his head. At press time, he was reported to be in a coma.
Police reviewed the centre’s video-security tapes, but were unable to make positive identifications of those involved due to the darkness and poor quality of the recording. Nonetheless, they have arrested two alleged participants of the incident and are trying to identify others. The members of the two groups are believed to reside in Torremolinos and Arroyo de la Miel.
The incident was the latest in a series of violent episodes at the centre, including one in February in which two minors were wounded when they were attacked and beaten up by a gang of youths. After that incident, the National Police announced that they would begin posting officers to patrol Plaza Mayor on weekend nights. But neither police nor the centre’s own security guards intervened in time to prevent last weekend’s dangerous brawl.
Vélez killer takes own life
By Dave Jamieson
The Vélez-Málaga man alleged to have murdered his wife in January has been found dead in prison. Following the discovery of his body on the Saturday of Easter weekend, authorities said there were no signs of violence and that he is believed to have committed suicide. At the time of his arrest, the 22-year-old had admitted that he killed his wife.
Back in January, following the murder of 22-year-old Inmaculada Marfil Cortés, more than a thousand people gathered outside Vélez-Málaga Town Hall to protest against domestic violence. Vélez Town Hall declared a day of mourning with official functions cancelled and flags flown at half mast, and the crowd, including Inmaculada’s colleagues from the fruit packaging plant where she worked, gathered at its front doors to observe five minutes silence.
The victim married her husband, Javier, last September and the couple were reported to have had a stormy relationship. Her semi-clothed body was discovered in the underground car park of the block where the couple lived, but police said that the assault had taken place in their apartment. The husband, who was quickly arrested by National Police, was alleged to have stabbed and strangled her to death and then moved her body to the car park in an attempt to hide it.
The man’s cellmate at the Alhaurín de la Torre prison raised the alarm at about 4.00 Saturday, after which his body was taken for a post-mortem examination. His funeral was held on Easter Sunday in Torre del Mar, where his mother runs a small gift shop.
British teen rescued after ‘quad’ accident
NEWS Staff Reporter
Torremolinos police and firefighters came to the rescue of a 16-year-old English boy who had suffered a serious crash on his quad motorcycle while riding along dirt tracks and trails in an open space known as Fuente de Rojas. Mid-afternoon Wednesday, the police received a call for help from the boy, Y.L.S., who used his mobile phone to report that he’d had an accident and was wounded. He could not describe his exact location but said it was somewhere near the Palacio de Congresos conference centre, according to municipal sources.
Emergency teams sped to the area but for some time were unable to locate the wounded boy. They gradually widened their search zone until finally spotting the victim, along with his quad-bike, down at the bottom of an eight-metre ravine, not far from the town’s model-plane airstrip. The police discovered that the boy had a compound fracture in one leg and contusions all over his body. The fire department and 061 emergency services were called to the scene to carry out the rescue operation using a special stretcher designed for such vertical-removal operations. Once out of the ravine, the boy was rushed to hospital.