News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol
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Week June 16th to June 22nd 2005.
STOLEN CAR SCAM EXPOSED
Arrested Britons targeted expat community
BY DAVID EADE
THE NATIONAL POLICE DRUGS AND ORGANISED CRIME SQUAD (UDYCO) ON THE COSTA DEL SOL HAS BROKEN UP A BRITISH CRIMINAL GROUP BASED ON THE COAST WHO WERE TRAFFICKING STOLEN VEHICLES.
The police operation started in May and has resulted in the arrest of five people and implicated another three who are British, Spanish and French. Officers seized nine high-value vehicles, amongst them two Mercedes and two Audis, three BMWs plus a VW Golf and a Jeep Cherokee. In addition they confiscated 350,000 euros in cash.
The gang stole cars in the UK, France and Germany and brought them to Spain where they were sold amongst members of the British community who ignored their illicit origin and purchased them for prices very similar to those charged on the second-hand market.
UDYCO investigations showed that the gang had produced false number plates and documentation, which would be difficult to detect at first sight. The number plates were produced in the UK and were cloned to match existing legitimately owned vehicles by model, technical characteristics and colour.
STOLEN CARS BROUGHT INTO SPAIN
The gang arranged for people who were resident on the Costa to fly to the UK where cars would be stolen, given the new identification and then driven back to Spain in groups of three or four vehicles all under the supervision of the gang leaders.
Arrested members of the gang are said to have interests in the property sector in Marbella and Puerto Banús. They often sold the vehicles to members of the British community on the Costa who purchased properties here to either live in on a permanent basis or for holiday periods and the stolen cars were only used locally or for travel in Spain.
PARALLEL INVESTIGATION IN THE UK
As a result of the National Police investigation, information relating to the gang’s operations has been sent to the authorities in the UK. British police are now opening a parallel investigation into the gang’s operations regarding the robberies, transportation and manufacturing of number plates.
Cártama house comes down in the end
BY OLIVER MCINTYRE
THE CONDEMNED ESTACIÓN DE CÁRTAMA HOUSE THAT A GROUP OF RESIDENTS HAD SAVED FROM THE WRECKING MACHINE LAST WEEK BY PROTESTING AND BLOCKING THE ROAD WITH CARS WAS DEMOLISHED BY AUTHORITIES MONDAY MORNING.
At the request of Cártama Town Hall, the Government Sub-Delegation sent around 50 Guardia Civil officers, who along with local police accompanied the wrecking crew to the site of the illegal home. But there was no protest this time by the couple who own the home or their neighbours, who had joined them in last week’s protest. “All weekend the family salvaged what they could from the house – windows, doors, fixtures and fittings, roof – and then they left the main gates and their own gate open for the police,” said Rachel Murray, a neighbour who had participated in last week’s protest. She said the family resigned to the teardown after being notified that it would take place on Monday and that “if anybody [tried] to stop the demolition they [would] be arrested.”
“The family are in bits, it is heartbreaking to watch,” said Mrs Murray, who owns one of the 11 other homes on the same tract of land. She and other neighbours – as well as many other homeowners in rural areas of Cártama – are concerned because their homes face the same legal situation as the demolished house. The 35-square-metre home that was torn down (it was the smallest in the neighbourhood) was built around three years ago on non-developable land and, although the owners had since paid a 4,000-euro fine, the regional high court ordered that the structure be demolished.
Monday’s was the third such home demolition in Cártama since 2003 and there are currently around 3,000 open cases related to illegal construction, according to Town Hall figures.
“The only thing we can do now is try and fight the Town Hall to stop this from happening again,” Mrs Murray told CDSN. She indicated that many homeowners were misled when they purchased their properties, and may not have been aware of the building restrictions. A group of residents has planned a protest march beginning at 19.00 on Saturday, June 18 next to the Prolongo meat factory near the church in Estación de Cártama.
Illegal construction demolished in Nerja
By Dave Jamieson
Nerja Town Hall has also ordered the demolition of an illegal construction on public land in the municipality, amidst claims that there are 20 more such cases pending. Councillors voted to approval the order to destroy a wall and swimming pool, built without appropriate authorisation on a 75 square metre site which is within the town’s public green zone. The person responsible for the work, believed to be in the Báden area, is being offered the chance to carry out its demolition voluntarily, otherwise the Town Hall plans to charge an estimated 20,500 euros for their operatives to remove the constructions. Nerja’s Mayor, José Alberto Armijo, said it was the first case of its kind to be approved by the Town Hall, while opposition Izquierda Unida councillor Rafael Vázquez claimed there were more than 20 other similar examples in public areas which should be considered by the Council. So far this year, Councillors have considered 65 cases of illegal construction including those without licences and those which turn out to be larger than shown on the approved plans.
Benalmádena threatens to seize 6,000 homes
NEWS Staff Reporter
Benalmádena Town Hall has indicated that it will consider opening proceedings that could lead to the seizure of cash or assets in relation to some 6,000 homes or buildings whose owners have failed to pay municipal taxes or fees. As much as 80 per cent of the unpaid taxes are owed by foreign homeowners or foreign-owned businesses, according to the Town Hall.
The majority of the outstanding tax debts are for IBI real-estate tax, capital gains on real-estate sales and municipal garbage fees. The Town Hall says it has already begun seizure proceedings on about a hundred homes. It has opened investigations on another 500 cases and has a list of 6,000 cases that could go the same route if the property owners do not settle up their tax debt.
The Town Hall says it is focussing first on those property owners who have failed to pay during multiple years. It says its seizing of bank accounts, homes and even entire buildings is legal under tax and property-seizure laws (Ley de Embargos and Ley General Tributaria).
False ATM keypads detected
By Oliver McIntyre
A new system for capturing ATM-users’ card and PIN data appears to have arrived on the Costa. Previously detected in Spanish cities like Madrid, Valencia and Sevilla, the high-tech fraud method, which involves the installation of a fake number keypad atop the cash machine’s real one, was used three weekends ago on two ATMs in Torremolinos, according to the banking consumer group Ausbanc. Police are investigating the case, which Ausbanc says may have affected up to 600 ATM users.
ATM fraudsters install both a magnetic-strip reader and a false number keypad that allows the user to complete the transaction (when the numbers are pushed on the false keypad, the numbers on the real keypad below get pushed as well), so there is no indication that anything has gone wrong. With the stored data from the magnetic-strip recorder and the false keypad, which has a computer chip that stores the PIN codes, the criminals can create cloned cards to withdraw money or make purchases. For victims, the first sign of the fraud is the appearance of unfamiliar charges on their bank statement.
In the Torremolinos cases, the majority of which appear to have occurred at the Banco Santander branch in Avenida de Mallorca, at least one fraudulent charge, for 1,800 euros, was identified as being made in Madrid some days after the card and PIN data were stolen, according to Ausbanc.
Guardia Civil to assist immigrants
Programme announced even as six would-be immigrants die at sea
By David Eade
THE NEW LIEUTENANT COLONEL OF THE GUARDIA CIVIL COMMAND IN ALGECIRAS, MARCIAL VÁZQUEZ, HAS ANNOUNCED THE CREATION OF A SPECIAL UNIT TO WORK WITH THE LOCAL IMMIGRANT COMMUNITY AS WELL AS THE HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF MOROCCANS AND ALGERIANS WHO PASS THROUGH THE PORTS OF ALGECIRAS AND TARIFA EACH YEAR BETWEEN JUNE AND SEPTEMBER AS PART OF THE ANNUAL ‘PASO DEL ESTRECHO’ (OPE).
Commander Vázquez, who was previously in charge of the Guardia Civil in Almería and moved to Algeciras in February to replace outgoing chief Francisco Espinosa, made the announcement at a working breakfast for the media attended by the Costa del Sol News. He stated that similar units already exist in Almería and Granada and he hopes to have the Algeciras unit operational by June 15, the official start date of OPE.
Meanwhile, in the early hours of Monday morning a Zodiac-type pneumatic launch floundered 20 miles off the coast of Tangiers, killing six women and six children under the age of two and a half.
Authorities believe that between 105 and 115 immigrants were crammed into the seven-metre-long boat designed to carry a maximum of 10 people. The overloaded vessel capsized in strong winds and sank in a rocky zone. At daybreak the Moroccan authorities found the bodies washed up on the beach and a search for more corpses is continuing.
Moroccan authorities have detained four people allegedly linked to the capsized vessel. It has not been officially confirmed but there are reports that the four detainees were carrying around 90,000 dirhams (about 9,000 euros), which is believed to be the money paid by the immigrants for the ill-fated trip to the Tarifa coast.
The same morning, another pneumatic launch with 49 immigrants on board was intercepted 2.5 miles southeast of Isla de Las Palomas in Tarifa by Guardia Civil and Coast Guard patrol boats. The 44 men and five women were treated by the Red Cross before being transferred to the care of the National Police whilst awaiting repatriation.
Two Britons cause flight problems at Málaga
By Dave Jamieson
Since the beginning of this month, two British woman arriving at the Málaga airport have been interviewed by security forces in relation to in-flight incidents. In one of the cases, a 33-year-old woman was escorted away by National Police officers upon arrival after causing a scene on a flight from the UK. The aircraft’s captain had radioed ahead for assistance after the passenger allegedly became hostile when the crew refused to provide her with additional alcoholic drinks. Although she was not detained, the officers submitted a formal report to the authorities.
In a separate incident two days earlier, a young woman on an easyJet flight from Liverpool was detained after being caught smoking in one of the aircraft’s toilets. Approaching the terminal, the pilot asked passengers to remain in their seats until members of the security services boarded, saying that the crew had identified someone who had been smoking in the toilet, an action which he added put the flight in danger. Security officers arrived on the aeroplane and told the woman that she had committed a serious offence and would have to pay a hefty fine to easyJet, which prohibits smoking on all its flights between the UK and Spain. Moreover, she would be prohibited from flying with easyJet in the future. The woman claimed that she had not heard the pre-flight briefing which highlighted the smoking ban and the presence of smoke detectors in the toilets, and said that it was the first time she had ever flown. The incident delayed the disembarkation of the other passengers by 20 minutes.
Dog-owners say weed-killer is killing pets
By Oliver McIntyre
Some pet-owners in Torremolinos say that weed-killer spray being applied in park areas has been sickening and even killing dogs and cats. “We know of three or four dogs that have died and one cat,” said Peter Caso, a foreign resident of the town.
A Spanish hairdresser named Macarena told Costa del Sol News that her dog, a four-year-old griffon named ‘Rufo’, died six hours after first showing signs of poisoning. The incident occurred the day after municipal workers had sprayed weed-killer on the garden areas surrounding her building in the Costa Lago urbanisation, she said. “He stepped on the liquid and then licked his paws,” she recalled. The next day the four-kilo dog began vomiting profusely and bleeding from the anus, and was dead before anything could be done to save it.
Macarena said she asked around at local vets and was put in contact with another woman who lives nearby and had suffered a similar problem, although her dog is larger and had become very ill but not died. Macarena complained at the Town Hall’s Environment Department and plans to file a formal ‘denuncia’. She says she is concerned not only for pets but also for children. The Torremolinos Parks and Gardens Department insists the weed-killing product it uses “is innocuous – it does not affect animals or humans,” a Town Hall representative told CDSN. Nonetheless, having received word of Macarena’s complaint, Parks and Gardens says it will investigate further with its supplier.
Over a hundred people flee Ojén blaze
Fist forest inferno of the season destroys 225 hectares
BY DAVID EADE
THE HEAT, WIND AND LACK OF RAIN FORMED A DANGEROUS COCKTAIL ON SUNDAY THAT ERUPTED IN A MAJOR BLAZE THAT DESTROYED 225 HECTARES OF SCRUBLAND AND PINES TREES IN THE MOUNTAIN ZONE BETWEEN OJÉN AND MARBELLA SENDING AROUND 100 PEOPLE FLEEING FOR SAFETY.
The blaze broke out at 13.15 in the Venta Barranco area for reasons that are currently under investigation but there are suspicions that it was started deliberately. People living in this rural area were forced to evacuate their homes but one person refused to leave without his cow although the Guardia Civil eventually persuaded him to do so. Two dwellings that were made of wood were totally destroyed. The fire was brought under control by 21.30.
According to eye witnesses the fire was out of control within minutes of starting and had to be fought on three fronts as it raced over large areas of Ojén some of which has been classified as for urban use in the new local development plan whilst the rest was protected forest.
The blaze touched on areas that had been damaged in a fire in 2001. The major zones affected were in Ojén but the Los Altos and Lindavista areas of Marbella close to the toll motorway also suffered but to a lesser degree.
FIVE HELICOPTERS COME TO THE RESCUE
The fire was the first forest inferno of the summer in Málaga and was spectacular. Four fire fighting aircraft and five helicopters, one of a large capacity, were brought in by the Infoca specialist fire team. Infoca had 110 personnel at the scene and were backed up by fire brigades from Marbella, Mijas, Estepona plus civil defence, Guardia Civil and local police officers.
Nerja's "garage tax" surprise
Enforcement of new tax stuns town’s residents
By Dave Jamieson
LOCAL TAX PAYERS IN NERJA HAVE BEEN STARTLED BY A NEW DEMAND WHICH HAS BEGUN DROPPING TO MAIL BOXES.
It seems that, back in 2001, the Town Hall decided to put a tax on any property which enjoys off-street parking, but that due to a shortage of staff, enforcement of the tax has only just started. Despite the delay, Nerja is determined to get its pound of flesh and the demands are back-dated four years, with the first payment due by the end of July. The surprise has come as more of a shock to many residents in a town where car parking is at a premium, where street parking spaces have been drastically reduced in the town centre by a programme of upgrading roads and pavements, and by the closure of one central car park to make way for a new street. A second underground car park is planned, but construction has not yet begun, prompting more than one resident to suggest that taxing those who park on the roads would make more sense than taxing those who are able to leave the thoroughfares clear! However, the Town Hall treasury demands are out, and anyone with access to a private garage, carport or even just a driveway or hard-standing area will have to stump up the 2001 fee of 72 euros by July 31. The amount payable for 2002, yet to be confirmed but believed to be 83 euros, will fall due at the end of the year, with further demands every six months until the system catches up with the date.
MUNICIPAL TAXES CONTROVERSY
This is the second time this year that Nerja Town Hall have caused local controversy with municipal taxes. In the spring, a sewage tax was introduced, but later withdrawn after councillors were deluged with complaints the service was already paid for in the annual IBI (formally Urbana) tax. Such a withdrawal seems unlikely for the so-called “Garage Tax”.
Cathedral to ring the changes
Bells get connected to computer system
By Dave Jamieson
TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY TECHNOLOGY WILL WORK ALONGSIDE CENTURIES OLD MECHANICS TO RESTORE THE FULL SOUND OF MÁLAGA CATHEDRAL’S BELLS.
A 105,000 euro project has been announced to bring 12 of the bells back to best condition, and to install a computer-controlled system to ring them. The work will include manufacturing new wooden yokes for eight, allowing them to make complete turns, and the replacement of the clappers in three presently silent bells, which will enable the Cathedral once again to sound traditional peals. The oldest of the bells are two which date from 1785 - La Encarnación, also known as La Gorda, weighing in at 4,500 kilos and the 3,500 kilo La Concepción – while the youngest, Campana Murua of 400 kilos, dates from as recently as 1973. The Dean of Málaga Cathedral, Francisco García Mota, said that all the bells would be connected to a computer system, and would play the traditional changes associated with the Catholic liturgy. He added, “They won’t play melodies, but will be programmed to deliver predetermined sequences of chimes according to the celebration which they are announcing.”
The Cultural Department at the Junta de Andalucía was expected to give the go-ahead for the project this week, after which ten of the bells would be removed to workshops for restoration, while the two oldest would be cleaned in situ because of their great weight.
Only one will be replaced completely: the 390 kilo San Juan Nepomuceno, which dates from 1887. Fissures have been detected on its interior surfaces and an exact replica will replace it, with the original being retired to the Cathedral’s museum. The three bells associated with the clock tower are not part of the renovation project.
Almería ready for Med Games
By Dave Jamieson
ONE OF THE REGION’S BIGGEST SPORTING EVENTS FOR MANY YEARS GETS UNDERWAY IN ALMERÍA NEXT WEEK.
The 15th Mediterranean Games open on Friday, June 24, and run for ten days with athletes from 21 participating countries competing in 24 different sports. Competitors from 14 European, five African and two Asian states will begin arriving in Almería in the next few days, and each will be invited to wear one of the 25,000 blue bracelets which the Town Hall is distributing to those who wish to show their support for the Games.
The spectacular opening ceremony, scheduled for 22.30 on the first day, will be staged by the Catalan company La Fura del Baus, who count the inaugural ceremony of the Barcelona Olympics amongst the highlights of their 25 year history. The presentation, entitled Al-Mariyat Bayyana, the Arab name for Almería, will tell the town’s long history in music and drama, with the help of around 1,800 people, including 1,000 local children. Rehearsals for the ceremony began on June 8, when 13 trailers carrying 25 tons of scenery, five kilometres of cables and hundreds of costumes arrived at Almería’s Mediterranean Stadium. The production company have been inviting ideas for the evening for some months and have made it clear that the stars of the show will be the many local people who have volunteered to participate. The event will be hosted by the Almería journalist Carlos Herrera.
The sports action actually gets underway next Thursday, a day before the formal opening, with the start of the football tournament, followed on Friday 24 by the opening basketball, volleyball, beach volley and swimming events. A frantic programme follows, including the traditional disciplines of athletics, boxing, cycling and more, with time available for a range of other sports including fencing, karate, golf and even petanque. There will also be a number of swimming and athletics events for disabled athletes.
A selection of 27 different venues in and around Almería will play host to the visitors, with the main focus on the Mediterranean Stadium which has cost 21 million euros and opened a year ago. It will seat up to 20,000 spectators for the athletics and football contests, as well as the opening and closing ceremonies. A dozen other sites in the city will play their part in events, while further afield six other towns and locations in the province will be involved.
HISTORY OF THE GAMES
This will be the 15th time the countries of the Mediterranean Basin have come together for the games which began in Alexandria in 1951. Every four years, the flag bearing the games symbol – representing the three participating continents and the Mediterranean Sea – flies over the host town or city, before being passed on to the next country chosen. It will be only the second time that the Games have been held in Spain - the first was in 1955 when Barcelona hosted the second Games - and Almería has been preparing for the event since 1990 when the City Council first endorsed the city’s application. Until the closing ceremony in a fortnight when Almería hands the flag on to the 2009 host, Pescara in eastern Italy, the town will be at the centre of Mediterranean sports action and is clearly determined to make the most it.
Andalucia's beaches safe
By Oliver McIntyre
The water at all 227 beaches along Andalucía’s 581 kilometres of coastline is safe for swimming, according to the regional government’s annual pre-summer Health Department report on beach conditions. But despite the perfect score for bathing water, 4.4 per cent of the region’s beaches got failing marks for non-water-related reasons.
The 11 beaches considered ‘black spots’ in this year’s report – two more than in 2004 – are located in Cádiz and Málaga. All the beaches in the provinces of Almería (68 beaches), Granada (28) and Huelva (15) received a passing grade for both water and non-water elements.
In Cádiz, four of the province’s 43 beaches were given black marks. The failing beaches were Levante-El Carmen in La Línea (due to access problems caused by construction work); Los Lances and Bolonia beaches in Tarifa (the former for wastewater residue on the sand and the latter for contamination at the mouth of the Alpariete River); and the cliff area of La Fuente del Gallo beach in Conil, due to a danger of rock falls.
Seven of Málaga’s 73 beaches scored less than perfect. At all but one of them, the cause of the black mark was construction work. This was the case at Sabinillas beach in Manilva, Punta de la Plata and La Rada beaches in Estepona, La Caleta and San Andrés-Huelin in the city of Málaga and La Caleta in Vélez-Málaga. At the province’s other black-mark beach, Lagos in Vélez-Málaga, wastewater residue was detected on the sand.
The analysis of beach conditions will be updated every 15 days throughout the summer, say Junta de Andalucía officials. The principal factors taken into consideration are bathing-water quality, sand conditions, potential contamination (wastewater residue, etc.) and town hall response to any problems. If a local town hall does not respond adequately to detected shortcomings, the Junta can order beaches to be shut down.