News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol
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Week June 23rd to June 29th 2005.
UK TARGETS OFFSHORE ACCOUNTS
HMRC to use credit-card records to identify account-holders
By David Eade
UK CITIZENS WHO USE CREDIT OR DEBIT CARDS FROM OFFSHORE BANK ACCOUNTS ARE BEING TARGETED BY TAX AUTHORITIES.
Briton’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, has given HM Revenue & Customs £66 million in an effort to recover £1.6 billion in tax revenues over a three-year period. The revenue office has a hit-list of 30,000 suspects and it intends to track down people who are using cards linked to offshore accounts, according to reports in the UK press. Initially, the authorities will focus on 1,000 names on the list, the Financial Times reported last week.
The Revenue & Customs authorities are keeping their cards close to their chests, as they do not wish to alert their targets. But reports indicate that UK credit card companies have been instructed to hand over the transaction records of people suspected evading taxes through offshore accounts.
BANKS MUST COMPLY
While no banks have confirmed that they have received such a request from the tax authorities, they acknowledge that they are legally obliged to comply fully with such a ‘production order’. Similar tactics for cracking down on offshore tax havens were used by the United States’ Internal Revenue Service in 1998 and 1999, when it required credit-card companies to provide information on accounts in the Caribbean.
The main tax havens for Britons are the Channel Islands, the Cayman Islands and Switzerland, whilst many expats in Spain and Portugal have accounts in Gibraltar. The EU has introduced a savings directive, which governs banks within the union and also, by agreement, offshore locations and Switzerland. All have agreed to lift their previous veils of secrecy.
The Channel Islands, Isle of Man and Gibraltar, along with Austria, Belgium and Luxembourg, have agreed with the EU on a transitional period during which EC citizens holding accounts can remain anonymous for the next few years. Nonetheless, by tracing the transactions of credit cards linked to offshore accounts via the standard UK banking system, it seems possible that Revenue & Customs could soon know who those ‘anonymous’ people are.
Major 'Russian mafia' ring busted
Police arrest 28, including many high-level mob bosses
By Oliver McIntyre
IN A SWEEPING POLICE OPERATION INVOLVING 400 OFFICERS ON THE COSTA AND ELSEWHERE IN SPAIN, 28 ALLEGED ‘RUSSIAN MAFIA’ MEMBERS WERE ARRESTED AT THE WEEKEND, MANY OF THEM HIGH-LEVEL ‘CAPOS’, OR MOB BOSSES, ACCORDING TO POLICE.
The operation, code-named ‘Avispa’, counted with the collaboration of Interpol, Europol and the national police forces of several countries, including France, Belgium, the United States, Russia and Israel, according to Spanish police officials. “It can be considered the largest strike to date in all of Europe against international organised crime,” said the police in a written statement.
In the weekend raids, carried out mostly in the Costa del Sol, Cataluña and Alicante, police searched 41 homes or premises, froze 800 bank accounts at 42 banks and seized 42 high-end vehicles (Bentleys, Mercedes, Porches, Jaguars, etc.). Police say the mobsters, mostly from old Soviet Bloc countries like the Georgia Republic, brought criminally-acquired money from their home countries to launder it in Spain via commercial or financial entities created for the purpose. They allegedly purchased bars, restaurant chains, vehicles and rural and urban properties as assets through which to launder the dirty money.
Among the many properties held by the gang were a number of luxury ‘chalets’, some with high-security ‘safe rooms’, as well as a 16,621-square-metre property in Benalmádena on which the mobsters planned to build a 38-house development called Los Eucaliptus. They had already received municipal licences for the project, according to the police.
Other Costa towns included in the weekend’s raids and arrests were Málaga, Marbella, Fuengirola and Torremolinos, with a total of five of the 28 arrests made in the province. Police have directly linked 22 of the arrested individuals to the mafias, most of them at the upper ‘capo’ level. They face charges of illegal association, money laundering and false bankruptcy. The other six detainees are charged with being in Spain illegally.
Ronda suffering stink from El Tajo
By David Eade
As high temperatures and summer tourists descend on the town of Ronda, the area below the famous Tajo bridge is giving off very bad smells. The town, on the one hand a national treasure as one of the most popular visitor locations in the country, is being called by some a national disgrace for still pouring its untreated sewage into the river in the Tajo gorge.
The Town Hall has now said it intends to take a number of emergency measures to address the health risk and nuisance posed by the situation. The councillor for Public Works, José Herrera, admitted that the problem has existed for many years. But he noted that an end will soon be in sight to the bad smells and polluted waters, as the work to build a sewage system and treatment plant is nearly complete.
In the interim the municipality has contracted the service of a company that specialises in eliminating odours. It has undertaken a study of the river in the town centre and at the Baños Árabes, one of the points where sewage is poured into the river. Council officials are also looking into the possibility of improving the circulation of the river water by cleaning the filters of the old water-collector system.
Costa residents suffer water cuts
Some areas already face drought-related rationing
By Oliver McIntyre
RESIDENTS IN SEVERAL AREAS OF THE COSTA HAVE BEEN FACING CUTS IN THEIR WATER SUPPLY, SOME DUE TO DROUGHT-RELATED RATIONING AND OTHERS APPARENTLY BECAUSE OF PROBLEMS IN SUPPLY CHANNELS.
Cártama Town Hall announced last week that, “due to the scarcity of rain and the severe drought,” it is cutting water supply to El Sexmo and Sierra de Gibralgalia between the hours of 22.00 and 08.00 each night in order to ensure daytime water supply. The shutoffs are aimed at allowing the supply tanks for these districts to fill up overnight. The Town Hall says it has tapped new wells and studied other measures to improve supply, but “the aquifers are nearly dry due to the lack of rain.”
In an unrelated situation, some 200 families in Estación de Cártama reported last week that they had been without water service for 10 days. The residents say the private water company that serves the zone, Acualia, told them it was performing works on the network. The Town Hall confirmed that the network in the area is aging and leaky, and that Acualia is replacing pipes throughout the system in order to improve pressure.
Meanwhile, in Mijas the Town Hall reported last week that during several days it had trucked in some 40,000 litres of potable water to the Buenavista urbanisation as an emergency supply for the 125 homes there. Municipal sources said the site’s water reserves had run out due to “lack of foresight on the part of the urbanisation,” which manages its own water supply.
Within days the Town Hall reached an agreement with the urbanisation, which will be connected to the main water network operated by the municipal utility Mijaguas, with the homeowners picking up the 50,000-euro cost of running the necessary pipeline. As an immediate, short-term fix, an old water line from San Antón was connected to Buenavista and put into service.
Rescued bathers ignored lifeguards’ advice
NEWS Staff Reporter
Two bathers in Nerja had to be rescued on the same day last week after ignoring advice not to go into the sea.
An Argentinean woman in her 60s was helped to safety on La Torrecilla beach after having previously told lifeguards, who had warned her twice not to bathe, that in her own country she was used to waves of up to 10 metres. Her actions were criticised by witnesses after two lifeguards had to brace rough seas to rescue her when she got into difficulties.
On Calahonda beach, a 65-year-old British man was rescued by lifeguards in an inflatable boat after he was overcome by waves while swimming. He was taken to the local health centre by ambulance for a medical check.
The events were early tests for Nerja’s team of lifeguards, whose numbers were increased by five before they began work earlier this month. Bathers have been asked to respect the advice offered by the lifeguards and never to bathe when the red danger flag is flying. In some municipalities, those who ignore these warnings can be fined.
Protest over Gibraltar pensions
Estimated 4,000 people come out in support of Spanish retirees
By David Eade
OFFICIALS ESTIMATED THAT AROUND 4,000 PEOPLE TURNED OUT FOR LAST THURSDAY’S PROTEST IN LA LÍNEA DE LA CONCEPCIÓN OVER THE FAILURE OF THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT TO UPDATE PENSIONS FOR SPANIARDS WHO FORMERLY WORKED IN GIBRALTAR.
The protest was called by the Partido Popular mayor, Juan Carlos Juárez, and backed by the pensioners’ action group ALPEG. The group says the Spanish workers’ pensions have been frozen at the same amount by the British government since 1990, while local citizens on the Rock have seen continual increases to their pensions because Britain formed a special fund for Gibraltar workers. The Spanish pensioners are demanding equal treatment and are looking to receive backdated payments of the increases. Their case is supported by the Spanish government and the EU is investigating the matter.
During the protest the mayor urged people to light 1,000 candles in memory of those pensioners who had passed away without receiving what they see as their full entitlement. The widows of some of the pensioners carried photographs of their deceased partners. At the same time, on the Gibraltar side of the frontier, the Voice of Gibraltar action group lit a single candle to recall what they describe as the 'dark' episodes in Spanish history.
Mayor Juárez told the crowd that the protest was in support of all those who had left their sweat and hard work in Gibraltar over the years. He protested that there had been “flagrant” discrimination as increased pensions were paid to Gibraltar residents but not to the Spaniards. However, the mayor also recognised that Spanish workers employed on the Rock had benefited Spain as a whole as their Sterling salaries were exchanged in La Línea when the country badly needed foreign currency.
Tax on foreigners is boon to Benalmádena budget
By Oliver McIntyre
Benalmádena Mayor Enrique Bolín last week presented the closing out of the 2004 municipal budget, which showed a surplus of 19 million euros, a sharp contrast to the 10 million-euro deficit of the previous year’s budget. The mayor attributed the turnaround to reigned-in spending and increased revenues from the IBI real-estate tax. The heftier IBI revenues came largely due to a steep rate hike targeted at non-residents (those who are not registered, or ‘empadronado’, with the Town Hall), the majority of whom are foreigners.
“It has proved to be a good idea to apply an IBI increase on non-residents, a measure that has produced an increase in revenues,” said the mayor. He also cited fiscal discipline in each of the Town Hall departments, noting that expensive new projects had not been introduced. In July the Council is expected to pass a series of measures aimed at next year’s budget, including an increase in rubbish fees. It has not been announced whether that increase will be targeted mainly at non-residents.
The 19 million-euro surplus will be put towards paying off municipal debt, which sits at about 40 million euros, said Sr Bolín. The Town Hall is also owed close to 40 million euros by other entities, such as the Junta de Andalucía, which has yet to pay back money that was paid from the municipal coffers for school construction or other projects.
Marbella crime drop
NEWS Staff Reporter
According to statistics from the Marbella police, robberies in the jet-set resort decreased significantly in the first four months of 2005 compared with the same period last year. Overall there was a 22 per cent drop, and some types of robberies plunged by as much as 50 per cent.
Home robberies dropped by 46 per cent in Marbella, 50 per cent in San Pedro, 42 per cent in Puerto Banús, 16 per cent in Las Chapas and 32 per cent in Nueva Andalucía. Robberies from establishments dropped by 44 per cent in San Pedro but remained unchanged in Puerto Banús. Robberies with force dropped by 38 per cent in San Pedro and 10 per cent in Nueva Andalucía, while vehicle theft dropped by 34 per cent in Nueva Andalucía and five per cent in Puerto Banús.
Petty theft, the most-reported crime in Marbella, also showed a downward trend, with Nueva Andalucía registering a 33 per cent drop and Marbella 20 per cent. Meanwhile, cases of fraud have increased in Nueva Andalucía and Marbella, with rises of 27 and 16 per cent, respectively, but have dropped by 52 per cent in Las Chapas, 33 per cent in San Pedro and 11 per cent in Puerto Banús.
More dust-ups over Alhaurín quarries
Air-quality metres still not installed
By Oliver McIntyre
THE ALHAURÍN DE LA TORRE TOWN COUNCIL LAST WEEK DENIED A MOTION BY THE OPPOSITION PSOE PARTY CALLING FOR THE TOWN HALL TO IMMEDIATELY INSTALL THE METERS THAT ARE SUPPOSED TO BE MEASURING THE AMOUNT OF SUSPENDED DUST PARTICLES IN THE AIR.
The installation of the meters was one of the quarry-related measures called for in the agreement signed last year between the Junta de Andalucía, the Town Hall, the local quarry industry and trade unions. But while the Town Hall has installed the huts to house the meters and the quarry companies have purchased the actual meters, they have yet to be installed and put into operation.
Environment councillor Salvador Herrera explained last week that the PSOE motion was denied because it is the Junta de Andalucía, and not the Town Hall, which is responsible for the installation of the meters. The councillor said that he invited the PSOE to reword its motion in order to request that the Junta immediately install the meters, but the PSOE declined and the motion was denied.
DUST CLOUD INVESTIGATED
Meanwhile, the Town Hall announced last week that it has filed a written complaint, along with photographs, to the Junta’s Environment Delegation in Málaga regarding a dust cloud that was emitted from the Pinos de Alhaurín quarry on May 20. The report was written up by the local police’s Green Patrol, which responded to the site to investigate the dust cloud and found heavy machinery knocking extracted material down a steep drop-off from the upper portion of the quarry.
Banderas to shoot movie in Málaga
Casting auditions held in city last weekend
By Dave Jamieson
ANTONIO BANDERAS WILL START SHOOTING HIS NEW MOVIE ON NOVEMBER 7 IN MÁLAGA, CONFIRMED EXECUTIVE PRODUCER CARLOS TAILLEFER AT THE WEEKEND, AS DOZENS OF HOPEFULS, SELECTED FROM OVER 1,500 WHO HAD APPLIED NATIONWIDE, TURNED UP AT THE CITY’S TEATRO CERVANTES TO AUDITION FOR PARTS.
The film, ‘Green Moon’, has a budget of six million euros and is based on Antonio Soler’s novel ‘El Camino de los Ingleses’, which takes its name from a street in the city and which last year won the Premio Nadal, one of Spain’s most prestigious literary prizes. Málaga-born Banderas, who is presently working on another production in Toronto, will film almost the entire movie in the city, although a few interior scenes will be shot in Madrid and Alicante.
‘Green Moon’, Banderas’ second offering as a director, after ‘Crazy in Alabama’ (1999), is expected to hit screens by July or August of next year. It is a coming-of-age story about a group of young people growing up in 1977, just after Franco’s death. Banderas himself was in his teens at that time, as “Spain was changing politically and the country was moving towards democracy,” he says, so he can relate with the film’s protagonists. “It’s pretty much my story,” he says.
The casting sessions in Málaga last week, which followed similar exercises in Sevilla and Madrid, were held to find four boys and three girls aged 17 to 22, a heavily-built outgoing woman, two older people, plus six women and five men between 30 and 45. Once the applicants have been reduced to a short list, Banderas himself will make the final casting decisions, with the lucky ones being offered contracts in two or three months. Shooting in Málaga is expected to take 10 to 12 weeks.
Amputee donkey gets prosthetic hoof
By Oliver McIntyre
A donkey under the care of El Refugio del Burrito in Fuente de Piedra (the Spanish branch of the UK-based NGO The Donkey Sanctuary) has received a pioneering medical intervention. ‘Bono’ was brought to El Refugio from Portugal, where he had lost his left-rear hoof as a result of being tethered too tightly, according to centre staff. Rather than let the injured burro spend the rest of his days hobbling around on three legs, El Refugio vets decided to put some normally human-oriented technology to work for their equine patient.
The centre commissioned René Beltrán, a prosthesis maker, to create an artificial ‘foot’ for Bono, which was fitted last week under the supervision of El Refugio vet Guillermo García Palmer. “Bono is the first donkey to be fitted with a prosthesis,” according to a centre spokesperson. The prosthetic piece, made of thermoplastic and metal, is “very similar to the casts made for humans in serious fracture cases,” he continued. Early trials showed the prosthesis to be a great success, with Bono “able to get around much more easily,” according to the source. The final fitting was performed last Wednesday, and Bono is now wandering around the centre’s paddock on all fours.
Brits still choose Spain
Overseas home purchasing on rise, and Spain tops list
By Oliver McIntyre
SPAIN IS STILL THE MOST POPULAR DESTINATION FOR BRITONS PURCHASING OVERSEAS HOMES, ACCORDING TO FIGURES RELEASED LAST WEEK BY THE UK’S OFFICE FOR NATIONAL STATISTICS.
Last year nearly 70,000 homes in Spain were owned by Britons, according to the ONS, making it by far the most popular country, followed by France (about 51,000 homes) and the United States (about 15,000). In Portugal and Italy, Britons owned about 5,000 and 2,500 homes, respectively.
A variety of factors, including everything from investment value and advantageous interest rates to sky-rocketing UK house prices and popular buy-abroad-promoting television shows like ‘A Place in the Sun’, have sparked a surge in British purchasing of overseas real estate. Last year Britons owned a total of nearly 257,000 homes overseas worth some £23 billion collectively; four years earlier they owned slightly more than 176,000 homes worth £11.1 billion. It is estimated that this year the number of overseas homes owned by Britons could top 300,000.
COSTA IS TOP CHOICE
Meanwhile, a new study on the holiday-home market in Spain has indicated that the Costa del Sol is the most likely area of the country to be chosen by foreigners purchasing a home. The study, carried out by ‘Grupo i’ in collaboration with the promotional group ‘Live in Spain’ and sponsored by Banco Santander Central Hispano and the development company Avantis-Grupo Gedeco, indicated that a whopping 93 per cent of foreign buyers prefer the Málaga coast.
Britons top the list of foreign buyers in Spain, followed by Germans, according to the study, which also indicates that the number of new foreign buyers is slowing, while increasing demand for holiday homes among Spaniards is helping to offset that decline. The study estimates that the overall demand for second homes in Spain this year will be 117,000, which will increase by 25 per cent in the next five years to reach roughly 150,000 homes a year in 2010. But the Málaga coast will lose market share to other areas of the country, like the Costa Cálida in Murcia and the Costa del Azahar in Castellón, says the study.
Half of Andalucía towns have no fire plan
By David Eade
Fifty-three percent of the municipalities in Andalucía that are obliged by law since 1999 to have an emergency plan for forest fires have not produced one. The 1999 law established that those municipalities which are partially or totally located in danger zones are obliged to draw up an emergency plan. But 304 of the 578 town halls that have areas of forest land within their boundaries are unprotected as the long, dry summer approaches.
The basic function of the plan is to put into place a structure for responding to a forest fire within the municipality. Each municipality should have a plan showing the areas at highest risk, the organization of voluntary quick-response groups and how local people will be alerted in the case of an emergency. The plan should also show the self-protection arrangements made in each municipality, as well as within individual urbanisations, camping zones or businesses operating in high-risk areas.
All the municipalities in the province of Cádiz that are located in forest zones have complied with the law. In Almería 41 out of 95 towns have drawn up their plans, in Córdoba 25 of 45 towns, in Granada 32 of 144 towns, in Jaén 56 of 66 towns, in Málaga 37 of 67 towns and in Sevilla 47 of 45 towns. In Huelva, which witnessed the disastrous fire of last year that started in Riotinto and advanced at a speed of five kilometres an hour, the regional government says that just five of the 79 municipalities required to have an emergency plan have created one.