Costa del Sol News - 4th May 2005

News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol

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Week April 28sth to May 4th 2005.


Protests pay off as Guadalhorce hospital gets the go ahead

By Oliver McIntyre

The announcement came as part of Sr Chaves’ speech at the Málaga Province Day ceremonies held on Tuesday at the new Teatro Cervantes in Álora, which was also attended by Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

Citizens’ groups, political parties and town halls in the Guadalhorce have been loudly demanding a full-service regional hospital in recent months. The Pro-Regional Hospital Platform, an umbrella group encompassing numerous associations, trade unions, officials and residents, has been carrying out protests in different Guadalhorce Valley towns, the most recent a rally in Alhaurín el Grande last Friday, attended by 2,000 people.

The intense public demand for the hospital was sparked in part by outcry over the death of a heart attack victim in Tolox last August after he waited an hour for the arrival of an ambulance. In March another man died, in Alhaurín el Grande, after suffering three heart attacks while waiting 45 minutes for an ambulance.
According to Sr Chaves’ comments in Álora on Tuesday, the regional hospital will be created through an agreement between the Junta, the provincial government and Cártama Town Hall. The negotiations will be expedited in order to prevent any unnecessary delay in the construction of the new hospital, he said.

The Málaga Province Day celebrations in Álora also marked Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s first official visit to the province of Málaga. He made closing marks at the event, highlighting the importance of the province and offering words of praise toward the honourees who were awarded Provincial gold Medals as part of the ceremony. These included wheelchair-bound Special Olympics fencer Paqui Bazalo, actress María Barranco, poet María Victoria Atencia, and Pablo Pineda, the first European with Down syndrome to obtain a university degree.


Briton arrested in 'White Whale' investigation

By David Eade

The pair identified as Harvey Jeffrey L and his companion Karen L were arrested in Marbella by officers of the National Police organised crime and drugs squad, Udyco. Both subsequently appeared before the Marbella judge investigating the case, Miguel Ángel Torres, and whilst Karen L was released on bail Harvey Jeffrey L is now being held in Alhaurín de la Torre jail along with Del Valle and eleven of his co-accused.

According to the police the two Britons were wanted in the UK for a number of frauds and fled abroad in 2001. The proceeds of their crimes, said to total thousands of euros, were invested in companies created and administered by Del Valle and used to purchase property on the Costa del Sol. Their arrest is an important breakthrough for the officers investigating the case as it shows a definite link between criminal money coming from abroad and being invested by Del Valle.

Police also arrested last week a 35-year-old Spaniard who had previously been the manager of the Banco de Andalucía in La Línea. The branch of this bank holds the accounts of Alleerton Holdings; a Del Valle owned company that has properties in La Alcaidesa in La Línea. Investigators had previously spent several days in the bank going through all the company’s transactions. The former bank employee was questioned by Judge Torres and later released on 12,000 euros bail.

Following in the wake of the ‘White Whale’ investigations Spain’s banks, lawyers and notaries are now obliged to keep an eagle eye open for possible illegal funds. If they are suspicious of any money holdings, deposits or movements they must report them to the executive service of the commission of prevention of money laundering and monetary offences (Sepblac).

The new regulations came in to effect last Friday and oblige banks to inform Sepblac of any suspicious operations that have their origin or destination in offshore tax havens or countries that are not co-operating in the fight against money laundering. In addition they must report any cash movements of 6,000 or more euros that cross the Spanish borders or exceed 80,500 euros within Spain.


Retirement home operators arrested for fraud

Residents were sedated and tricked into signing over power of attorney

By Oliver McIntyre

According to the charges, the owner of centre, Concepcón B.J., and her accomplices drugged some residents and scammed them into signing over power of attorney that gave the accused access to their bank accounts, real estate and other belongings.

The investigation began some months ago when a resident of the Nuestra Señora de Gracia retirement home, located at 428 Calle Torrox in the Pinos de Alhaurín neighbourhood, complained to authorities. On Wednesday of last week, Guardia Civil officers raided the centre and spent hours examining the facilities and taking statements from residents and staff.
Investigators believe the accused tricked the victims by telling them they were signing papers that would allow the centre to apply for pension supplements to help cover the cost of their stay at the home. But in fact the documents gave authorisation for power of attorney, which, along with the bank account numbers and house keys the centre had already required residents to hand over at the time of moving in to the home, allowed the accused to bilk the victims of money and real estate.

In addition, the paperwork may have left victims’ possessions in the hands of the retirement home owner following their deaths. Investigators are looking into the possibility that sedatives given to the residents accelerated their deaths. The results of an autopsy on one man who died on Tuesday of last week may determine whether or not the court will order the exhumation of other deceased former residents for further analysis. Investigators are also trying to establish if there were other forms of mistreatment or abuse of residents.

Following the arrests, two social workers and a psychologist were sent by Alhaurín Town Hall to attend to the nearly 30 elderly residents of the centre. Family members of the residents were advised to make other arrangements for them, as the centre would be shut down.


British neo-Nazi arrested in Benalmádena

NEWS Staff Reporter

Briton Mark Atkinson, 38, an alleged neo-Nazi leader, has been arrested by Spanish National Police in Benalmádena. The UK had issued a European arrest warrant for Atkinson, who had previously been arrested in England but fled to Spain while out on bail, according to Spanish police reports.

Atkinson, from Egham in Surrey, is considered by authorities to be the founder of the extreme-right group Racial Volunteer Force and the hate-mongering magazine ‘The Stormer’. Officials also connect him with the neo-Nazi group Combat 18. In Britain he faces charges of publishing or distributing material likely to incite racial hatred.

Authorities have indicated that when Atkinson fled the UK he went into hiding in the province of Sevilla, but investigators tracked him down while he was visiting a friend in Benalmádena Pueblo. Following the arrest he was transferred almost immediately to Madrid for extradition proceedings. Officials expect him to be extradited quickly so that he can face trial in the UK in May.

Spanish police have also arrested an Englishman in Alhaurín el Grande for whom British authorities had issued an international arrest warrant in connection with the bust of a major marijuana production factory in 2000 at the Breighton Airfield Industrial Estate in Sands Lane, Breighton. Michael John Walsh, 62, was arrested at the time but skipped bail and was believed to have links to the Costa del Sol. Three other members of the crew that operated the £1m-a-year hydroponic marijuana facility were convicted and sentenced to around four years in prison each.


Gibraltar seeks to attract low cost airlines

Visitor attractions on the Rock to be highlighted

By David Eade

The move was confirmed by the Gibraltar Tourist Board’s sales and marketing director, Nicholas Guerrero during a visit to the Spanish capital.

Mr Guerrero was in Madrid to inform Spanish travel agents on the visitor attractions of the Rock. Currently Gibraltar only has flight connections to London and Manchester but Nicholas Guerrero stated that moves were afoot to extend services to other UK destinations by making agreements with the low-cost carriers. It is hoped that this move will increase the night stays in Gibraltar rather than tourists just using the airport as an entry route to Spain.

Gibraltar’s airport has a capacity to handle a million passengers a year but it is only used by around 160,000 people. Britain and Spain are currently negotiating to introduce routes to Spanish cities. Mr Guerrero observed that 30 per cent of all visitors to Gibraltar were Spanish but only three per cent of them stayed overnight on the Rock.

In 2004 Gibraltar received 7.6 million visitors which is an increase of between two and three per cent on the previous year. In addition those same visitors spent 180,000 million pounds sterling during their visit. Seventy per cent came for pleasure with the remaining 30 per cent being on business and the Rock’s hotels achieved an average annual occupancy rate of 75 per cent.


Briton escapes jail but may lose house

News Staff Reporter

As reported previously in the Costa del Sol News Briton James Bystrom Wells-Hunt faced an eight year prison sentence because the ministry of the environment prosecutor considered his prefabricated home at Bolonia in the Estrecho natural park had seriously damaged the environment as it was close to the nesting zone of two types of vultures.
The Briton had admitted buying the finca, constructing a prefabricated dwelling on the site, drilling for water and constructing a well. However he pointed out that the building was more of a shack with no cement holding it together nor was there electricity or a chimney.

The judge of the Algeciras section of the provincial court ruled that Wells-Hunt’s offence was not so serious as to warrant a prison sentence. In addition the court observed that the colony of protected birds had recovered after the disturbance caused by his work. Nonetheless it found the Briton guilty of breaking the planning laws for the area and putting at risk the fragile environment of the zone.

The court has now referred the case back to regional government on the basis that it is within its competence to take action over the illegal dwelling situated in the national park. It is believed the most likely outcome is that an order will be issued forcing Wells-Hunt to demolish the construction.


New car theft scam in Málaga

By Dave Jamieson

A new method of stealing cars has surfaced in Málaga. Police say that organised foreign crime gangs are behind the campaign and have warned the public to be vigilant.

It appears to be a simple trick, but has already caught out several drivers who have seen their vehicles stolen from under their noses. The thief identifies a parked car as a target, and sticks a magazine or newspaper on the rear window. When the driver returns and sits down ready to drive off, he or she sees the object obstructing vision in the rear view mirror, so gets out to clear it – leaving the keys in the ignition. At this moment, the thief jumps in and drives off, leaving the driver angry and helpless. A variation is to let down one of the car tyres which the driver gets out to examine as soon as he begins to move the vehicle. Police say such thefts have been reported from filling stations and from car-washes, as well as from the roadside. Vehicles stolen are believed to be used in other criminal activities, or to be sold in North Africa and Eastern Europe.

The city’s police officers believe that Romanian and Bulgarian gangs are orchestrating the thefts and are urging drivers to be cautious. They recommend checking the rear window before getting into the car, or, if an object is spotted obstructing the view after moving off, driving on a good distance before getting out to remove it. Above all, they say that the key should never be left in the car’s ignition lock when the driver is absent. Such crime, they warn, may also be outside the terms of the vehicle’s insurance cover.


Nerja prepares for summer on the beaches

News Staff Reporter

Nerja has announced a number of health and safety measures to be implemented on its beaches this summer. 24 people will be employed to monitor the municipality’s coastline this season, around a fifth more than last year, starting in June. Two lookout towers will operate, one on Playazo Beach the other on Burriana Beach, with two aid stations at Burriana. La Torrecilla beach will be served by Civil Protection volunteers with an inflatable craft and a ski-bike which will cover the whole length of the coast. 14 staff – eight more than during the winter – will be responsible for keeping Nerja’s beaches clean this year, with daily attention from El Playazo as far east as Maro, a length of five kilometres. The Caleta de Maro beach will be cleaned twice weekly.

Beaches protected by buoys
In addition, over four kilometres of the town’s coastline will be protected by buoys this summer. Nerja - one of the region’s pioneers in the use of the floating coloured markers to denote safe swimming areas and access ways for boats - will spend almost 28,000 euros on the safety measure which will take in 11 beaches, including, for the first time, La Caleta. The cost is being subsidised by the Junta de Andalucía. Those participating in the increasingly popular sport of diving have been reminded that they should signal their presence with an orange coloured buoy.

Insurance cover essential
Nerja’s Town Hall has also issued requirements for boats and pleasure craft. All must be carry the appropriate insurance cover, no more than the permitted number of passengers may be on board and owners must be able to present the vessel’s papers at any time. Night time sailing is prohibited for craft not equipped with the required navigation lights. Small craft, such as canoes, and rented boats must operate between 50 and 200 metres off the coast, must leave and return to the beach in the channels indicated by the buoys, and cannot be moored or anchored while in use.


Benalmádena health centre controversy

By Oliver McIntyre

The Junta de Andalucía's delegate in Málaga, José Luis Marcos, announced last week that the regional government is prepared to outfit and open Benalmádena's new Torrequebrada health centre as soon as the Town Hall hands over the finished building. The health centre could open by this summer, he said, in contrast to Mayor Bolín's statement earlier in the week that a pending legal challenge against the project by the Junta's Public Works delegation in Málaga could delay the centre's opening by as much as a year.

The challenge by Public Works is over a deal the Town Hall made with the owners of the property where the health centre was built, giving them increased building rights on a separate property, raising the allowable construction by 194 per cent. "The mayor has mixed the two questions, but they are independent from one another; the centre does not need to remain closed until the regional high court (TSJA) rules" on the legal challenge, said Sr Marcos last week.. Whatever the court rules, he continued, the operation of the health centre will not be affected. In addition, he said the Junta's Public Works department would be willing to withdraw the legal challenge if the Town Hall amends the land reclassification that brought it on.

The Town Hall indicated that it is willing to "exhaust every avenue of dialogue" to resolve the situation and get the health centre opened as soon as possible. But it also stressed that it is not willing to hand over the building to the Junta if the condition for doing so is modifying the deal it made with the property owners, which it says was legal and within its jurisdiction. The original agreement between the Junta and the Town Hall was that the Town Hall would build the centre and then the Junta would take it over to outfit it and put it into operation.


Nerja sunbeds threatened by court order

By Dave Jamieson

Restaurants and bars operating on and near Nerja’s beaches have been startled by the news that there may be no sunbeds available for holiday makers this summer. The failure of the Town Hall to win a series of appeals against a court ruling from four years ago means that, not only have the terms and conditions under which sunbed operators work been declared null and void, but the Council is obliged to suspend all its sunbed concessions in the municipality.

The matter has its roots in 1996 when the Town Hall auctioned the concessions to operate sunbeds on its beaches for a period of ten years, meaning that this year’s summer would be the last under the agreement. However, the then Syndicates of Provincial Málaga Beaches (now renamed the Association of Beaches) appealed against the terms and conditions of the deal in 1997. The final verdict came from the Upper Court of Justice in Andalucía this month, when a judge dealing in such administrative disputes upheld the previous rulings and told the Town Hall that it must observe its obligations within a period of two months. In the meantime, businesses dependent on tourists who are attracted to the beaches for sunbathing fear that a prolonged delay in resolving the problem could hit them hard.

Burriana beach businesses complain
On the town’s biggest and most important beach, Playa Burriana, feelings against the Town Hall are already running high, following numerous evenings on which the street lights have failed and the prohibition of live music in some bars and restaurants. One proprietor told Costa del Sol News that the area’s business owners feel ignored and unsupported by the Town Hall, and that, with a poor season last year and this year’s peak period imminent, this could be just the blow required to put some of them out of business permanently.


Andalucia to get tsunami warning system

System to be deployed along the region's coastline

By David Eade

One such system has been developed and once perfected the regional government intends to deploy it along the Andalucía coastline.
A tsunami in the open sea can travel at a speed of between 800 and 1,000 kilometres an hour. If its point of origin were close to the coast it would take only a matter of seconds or minutes for the giant waves to sweep ashore. Currently there are only two warnings, an increase in the water pressure and a rise in the water level as the tsunami wave passes.
The universities are looking at developing a system that once installed at a certain distance off the coast would detect the arrival of a tsunami wave and give an hour's warning of its approach. The system uses the latest technology and is both complex and costly. It would require the installation of pressure sensors on the seabed at a depth of between 1,000 and 3,000 metres.

One of the scientists developing the system is Alfredo Izquierdo from the University of Cádiz. He said that the sensors would be connected to a buoy floating on the surface and would emit a signal when the level of the sea was increased by the arrival of a giant wave. The buoy in turn would send a signal to a satellite, which would communicate with an emergency centre.

Izquierdo explained that the warning system would be situated in a zone off the coast that has a high risk of seismic activity. Or in the case for example, of Cádiz, the sensors would be located in the bay so officials would be alerted as the tsunami approached.

The detection of tsunamis is not the only use of the system. Scientists at Cádiz, Granada and Málaga universities as well as the National Meteorology Institute and Coastguard started work after the 'Prestige' tanker disaster. The system was originally designed to observe and control oil spillages and locate wrecks at sea but has now been adapted to warn of the advance of tsunamis.


Spain approves gay marriage

Vatican calls for officials to refuse to carry out ceremonies

By David Eade

The PSOE government bill now passes to the Senate for ratification, which many observers believe will be a formality. Once enshrined in law Spain will be the third EU country after Belgium and Holland to permit gay marriages but will be the first to allow adoption.
When the bill is passed Spanish civil law would include the phrase: "Matrimony shall have the same requisites and effects regardless of whether the persons involved are of the same or different sex." The vote in parliament was carried by 183 to 136 with six abstentions. The opposition centre-right Partido Popular voted against the bill on the grounds that gay relationships fall outside the traditional institution of marriage.

The passing of the bill through the lower house was greeted by cheers and clapping from members of homosexual and lesbian groups in the public gallery. Justice Minister Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar argued that the bill overcomes "the barriers of discrimination, many of them with deep historical or primitive roots, which affect the rights and the freedom and, in a specific way, the extension of free choice in the search for happiness, an unwritten basic right".

However the bill has set the Spanish government on a collision course with the new pope and the Vatican. Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, head of the Pontifical Council on the Family stated in an interview with the Italian daily 'Corriere della Sera': "We cannot impose the iniquitous on people. On the contrary, precisely because they are iniquitous the Church makes an urgent call for freedom of conscience and the duty to oppose."

Trujillo went on to state that municipal officials asked to perform gay marriages should object on grounds of conscience even if it led to them losing their jobs. He said: "I am talking of every professional linked to the implementation of the law. They should exercise the same conscientious objection asked of doctors and nurses against a crime such as abortion. This is not a matter of choice: all Christians must be prepared to pay the highest price, including the loss of a job."


Málaga reservoir levels fall

NEWS Staff Report

The province of Málaga has been placed on a state of alert following low winter rainfall and falling reservoir levels. The region's supply authority, the Cuenca Mediterránea Andaluza (CMA), says it is studying methods of maintaining supplies if the dry conditions persist.

The CMA says that the average level of Málaga's reservoirs is presently 50 per cent, having dropped from 81 per cent two months ago, although huge differences exist between them. In the Axarquía, La Viñuela is reported to be 85 per cent full, while Limonero, north of the capital, has just 19 per cent of its capacity. Elsewhere in the region, the situation is even worse with Almería's average as low as seven per cent of capacity.

While not yet talking of the situation as a drought, the CMA's director, Rodríguez Leal, says he is concerned because of the anticipated summer increase in population along the coast which will produce a substantial rise in consumption. He says that new ways of obtaining water resources would have to be found, such as increasing the number of desalination plants in the province. The director also criticised a number of municipalities in the area, suggesting that prices to them could be increased because large volumes of water are lost from defective pipes and poor maintenance.

Last week's alert by Sr Leal added to already confusing signals from other bodies. First, the country's National Meteorological Institute (INM) described the situation as the worst "rainfall drought" since 1988, with precipitation 35 per cent below average between November and January. The INM said that January was the driest for 50 years and that reservoir levels in southern regions, including Andalucía, were well below the national average of 57.6 per cent capacity. However, the following week, the regional government issued assurances that water supplies were guaranteed for another two years. The environmental department at the Junta claimed that water deposits stood at 66 per cent capacity, which although 20 per cent down on 2003 and 2004, suggested a substantially better picture than that painted by the INM.
The Union of Small Farmers (UPA) in Málaga said that the situation in the province was already serious with the countryside already suffering from drought for several months. Substantial losses are predicted for this year and many members planned to join in a demonstration in Madrid on Tuesday of this week in an attempt to persuade the Government to provide economic aid to the sector.

Meanwhile, water supplies for much of the Axarquía should be better protected for the future with the opening of a large new storage facility by the end of the year. Last month, construction began in the Romeral area of Vélez-Málaga on a 50,000 cubic metre tank which will hold enough to supply a population of 275,000 at the rate of 800 litres per second, sufficient for 36 hours in case of a major breakdown. All municipalities which have La Viñuela reservoir as their principle supply source will benefit from the 10.7 million euro project which is being financed by the Junta de Andalucía.