News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol
In association with
Week September 22nd to September 28th 2005.
POLICE SMASH COSTA CRIME
Tougher police action leads to hundreds of arrests
By Oliver McIntyre
THE NATIONAL POLICE HAVE BROKEN UP 29 ORGANISED CRIME GROUPS ON THE COSTA DEL SOL IN THE FIRST EIGHT MONTHS OF THIS YEAR, COMPARED TO A TOTAL OF 27 GROUPS IN 2004.
The busts so far this year have yielded 593 arrests, 180 more than last year. But from these figures ‘it should not be deduced that there is an increased presence of organised crime in the zone’, police officials hastened to add. “The improvement and intensification of police investigation has uncovered the presence of groups that were operating on the Costa del Sol.” So far this year, 39 separate groups have been investigated, six more than last year.
One of the standout operations this year was the famous ‘Ballena Blanca’ (‘White Whale’) case in Marbella, which netted 48 arrests of Spanish and foreign nationals for alleged involvement in the laundering of 250 million euros. Others included operations ‘Sugar’ and ‘Tul’, carried out in collaboration with British and Portuguese undercover officers and yielding the seizure of 5,000 kilos of cocaine. Operation ‘Avispa’, which counted with the cooperation of Interpol, Europol and police forces from several countries, resulted in the arrest of 28 alleged Russian mafia members on the Costa and elsewhere in Spain.
Police officials say international law-enforcement cooperation is playing an increasingly important role in fighting organised crime. Officials added that they have successfully begun the creation of Joint Investigation Teams with the UK and France.
SPECIALITIES BY NATIONALITY
The organised-crime investigations have allowed Spain’s police to identify certain trends in the type of activities carried out by criminal groups of different nationalities. Britons, say police, tend toward money laundering, scams and the trafficking of hashish, cocaine and stolen vehicles. Spanish gangs are involved mostly in drug trafficking, money laundering and violent robbery. Other groups – like Colombians, Rumanians, Chinese, French, Moroccans, Nigerians and others – have different specialities, which include sex trade, illegal immigration, kidnappings or extortion.
FINANCIAL CRIMES TARGETED
With the positive results seen so far from the National Police’s recently created GRECO unit aimed at combating organised crime, they are now set to launch another special unit aimed at financial crimes. The Central Economic and Fiscal Crime Unit will conduct domestic and international investigations into tax and Social Security fraud, money laundering, counterfeiting, financial scams, stock market crimes and other money-related offences.
UK arrests ordered in 'white whale' money launder
By David Eade
SPAIN’S MINISTER OF THE INTERIOR, JOSÉ ANTONIO ALONSO, HAS SPOKEN IN PUBLIC ABOUT THE LATEST DEVELOPMENTS IN THE ‘BALLENA BLANCA’ (WHITE WHALE) INTERNATIONAL MONEY LAUNDERING CASE CENTRED ON THE FERNANDO DEL VALLE LEGAL PRACTICE IN MARBELLA.
The minister stated that the judge in the case, Miguel Ángel Torres, had ordered the arrest of five people in the UK, Holland and Finland. The people involved have not been named and Spain is waiting to hear from the judicial and police authorities in the three countries as to whether the detentions have been carried out. All five are said to have participated in companies set up by lawyer Fernando del Valle which were allegedly used in money laundering scams.
The judge has also asked for investigation commissions to be set up in the same three countries to process information relating to the money laundering activities in the UK, Holland and Finland of those involved in ‘Ballena Blanca’. The approval of these countries has not yet been forthcoming but similar commissions have been established with Holland, Russia and France.
So far 48 people of various nationalities have been detained by police in the case. Of those eight are currently being held in prison including the alleged mastermind of the scam, Fernando del Valle.
RELEASE ON BAIL FOR DEL VALLE
Del Valle’s family went to the Málaga provincial court last week to seek his release on bail. The court duly agreed that if they could raise 600,000 euros then the lawyer would be freed ahead of the case being tried. However the court stipulated that the money must be in cash or bank draft and assets such as property would not be accepted.
Protest against development plan
By Oliver McIntyre
Members of the Alternativa Mijeña and Izquierda Unida political parties, along with trade union representatives, last week led a protest against Mijas’ new local development plan (PGOU), which received preliminary approval in August. Several dozen people joined the protest, held Wednesday outside the Town Hall.
The protesters said their goal was to encourage residents of the town to submit comments and suggestions on the PGOU during the public review and comment period, which is open until late October. Some of the issues the group has with the document are the large number of new homes it allows (70,000), its insufficient provisions for public transportation, and its plan for the creation of a marina in La Cala. Other complaints include the number of golf courses and the strain they put on water resources, the location of a future business park on the flank of the Mijas Sierra and the reclassification of 2,000 hectares of land from non-developable to urban or developable.
Mijas Town Hall has from the outset defended the PGOU as a document championing sustainable growth and development and protecting green space. Mayor Agustín Moreno has stated that it 70,000 new homes are possible due to the controlled growth the town has experienced compared to neighbouring municipalities. In a statement earlier this month, the Town Hall said the PGOU includes “more green zones, an increase in the amount of protected land and the creation of the infrastructure and public-use facilities the town needs.” It said the document “guarantees the growth of Mijas, without putting its future at risk.”
Briton faces losing leg after motorbike accident
By Oliver McIntyre
Phil Humphrey, from Ivybridge in Devon, has been living and working for the Ministry of Defence in Gibraltar for nearly four years. On Sunday August 27 he decided to ride his red and white Triumph motorbike on the A-369 in the direction of Ronda. At 16.30, as he rode over the railway bridge at San Pablo de Buceite outside of Jimena, he was involved in a terrible accident the outcome of which will change his life.
Phil told Costa del Sol News that as he approached the accident black spot on a sharp bend he was hit by a young driver in a Ford Fiesta. He was told by the Guardia Civil that the driver was over the alcohol limit and said: “It appeared to me that he also simply ran out of road when overtaking resulting in him being on the wrong side of the road when he hit me.”
An eyewitness stated that the force of the impact was such that Phil’s bike was wedged below the lower bastion of the railway bridge although Phil says he remembers nothing of the railway bridge at all. Seriously injured Phil was rushed to La Línea’s SAS hospital were doctors fought to save his life and ‘operated on me and looked after me till I was flown back to the UK’.
Phil is currently in the University Hospital in Selly Oak, Birmingham. The left side of his body has been badly damaged and Phil commented: “I have had two further operations but it looks like my left foot will be amputated just below the knee.”
Last week, Roy Smith, a friend and fellow MoD worker in Gibraltar tracked down Phil’s motorbike and sent him a photograph of it. The photo dramatically shows the damage to the rider’s seat. Phil observed: “God knows how I survived, but somebody was looking after me. Trouble is it seems that there are too many idiots on the road.”
El Morche’s audacious bank snatch
By Dave Jamieson
A bank in El Morche has been robbed of 67,000 euros in a spur of the moment snatch. The incident at the CajaSur branch on the old N-340 road in the town near Torrox happened just before it was due to close at 14.00 last Thursday. Guardia Civil investigators say that a young male customer stepped up to the counter where a clerk was handling a bundle of bank notes which had been deposited by the previous client. She placed the notes on her desk in an inaccessible place while she dealt with the man who asked for change of 200 euros in five euro notes. As she turned to pick up the small denomination bank notes, the thief is reported to have stretched over, grabbed the cash and made his escape, to the shock and surprise of the bank’s staff and customers.
Witnesses said the culprit was well dressed and respectable looking, and queued along with other customers awaiting their turn. He did not behave suspiciously or use violence, and is believed to have been in the bank a few days earlier. A similar incident, when an unspecified amount of cash was taken, was reported from the BBVA branch in El Morche only three weeks earlier. Investigating officers have been examining recordings made on the bank’s security camera system in an attempt to identify the individual responsible.
Chaos rules at Marbella Town Hall
Local government once finds itself in crisis
By David Eade
THE MAYOR OF MARBELLA, MARISOL YAGÜE, IS FACING A MAJOR CRISIS THAT THREATENS TO TOPPLE HER DELICATELY BALANCED COALITION ADMINISTRATION.
The situation is so chaotic that in recent days it has been changing hour-by-hour, but at press time this was the current state of affairs. The tri-party group in power is made up of former members of the independent GIL party led by Marisol Yagüe, in partnership with Socialist (PSOE) councillors and Partido Andalucista (PA) councillors. The group consists of the members of Marbella council who in August 2003 backed the motion to depose sitting GIL mayor, Julián Muñoz.
For the past two years the three-party coalition has had its crises but the cracks have been successfully covered up. Now the three councillors of the PA have been accused by workers in the municipal departments they control of serious mismanagement. Adding fuel to the fire, the workers have secured the backing of PSOE leader Isabel García Marcos, leading the PA councillors to accuse her of masterminding the campaign against them.
At the start of the week the mayor started to hear the explanations from the three PA councillors. At some point she has to decide whether to back her Socialist deputy mayor, Isabel García Marcos, or her PA deputy mayor, Carlos Fernández. Whichever she chooses will likely lead to a rupture in the coalition ranks that could be beyond repair.
If she loses either the PSOE or PA councillors, the mayor will find herself governing with a minority administration, meaning she would need to bring other councillors onboard. It is expected that she will turn to the three former GIL councillors who did not support the censor motion on Julián Muñoz and were therefore excluded from her ruling group.
The three councillors are Javier Lendínez, Carlos Marín and Emilio Jorrín. The first two had been close associates of Julián Muñoz but have now distanced themselves from him. They have now formed themselves into the Centro Andaluz Independiente (CAI) party. In theory the CAI could now become the new third party in the tripartite administration. However, this trio has up till recently been amongst Mayor Yagüe’s most fervent critics.
MUÑOZ IN COURT
Meanwhile, former mayor Julián Muñoz is facing troubles of his own this week. He and six former Marbella councillors are in Málaga’s penal court to face charges relating to an alleged town planning offence in 1999. The prosecutor is accusing them of issuing a licence to build 150 homes on land that classified as a green zone. The prosecutor is seeking a prison sentence of 18 months plus an eight-year ban from holding public office.
First brick laid for Fuengirola's new Town Hall
By David Eade
The Mayor of Fuengirola, Esperanza Oña, laid the first brick for what will eventually be the municipality’s new town hall. The ceremony was attended by council members, local residents and various organisations from the town.
As well as laying the first brick the mayor also buried in a sealed container copies of all that day’s Málaga newspapers, a picture of the present town hall, a diploma, coins that are currently in circulation as well as other items and objects relating to the town.
PROJECT A PRIORITY
The project to build a new Town Hall has been a priority for some years as the existing building no longer has the space to accommodate all the department’s required by a fast-growing municipality. Sra Oña stated: “We all have to be united in this important project that will see the construction of the house of all the people of Fuengirola.”
The new Town Hall will have 7,700 square metres of floor space. It will have two basement floors that will include car parking space plus four floors above ground level. The budget for the project has been set at just under 3.8 million euros and will take 18 months in all to complete dating from last April 11 when work started on the site.
San Pedro car park brick tower
Young man found dead below bridge
By David Eade
A chance decision by a goat herder led to the discovery of the body of a man aged between 20 and 30 below a bridge near Ronda. The goat herder usually walks over the bridge between Ronda and Montecorto but on this occasion he opted to pass underneath instead.
He immediately reported his find to the local Mayor who called in the National Police. Forensic tests suggested the body had been there for at least two days. An initial examination of the scene suggested that the man may have committed suicide or fallen accidentally but after police scientists were brought in and an autopsy carried out a murder investigation was opened.
At the time of going to press the man remains unidentified. Police have checked reports of people being declared missing without any success. Also the body has not been identified by any local people. His details have also been fed in to the ‘Humanitas’ date base which contains details of people whose whereabouts are unknown but have again drawn a blank.
RONDA MURDER CASE BEGINS
Meanwhile in another Ronda murder case the prosecutor is seeking a prison term of 39 years for three people accused of murdering the proprietor of a Ronda guesthouse who they bound and attacked with the alleged motive of robbery.
The killing took place at the Hostal Aguilar on October 21, 2003 and was reported in the Costa del Sol News at the time. It is alleged that two of the accused, probably on the pretext of wishing to see a room, was taken by the woman owner to room 104 where she was attacked, bound and subsequently killed. The men had demanded she hand over the keys to her safe where the cash from the sale of some properties and the takings from two family businesses were kept. The case was due to open in the Málaga court this week but has been delayed as one of the lawyers has refused to defend his client.
Businesses want action on 'Botellon'
By Oliver McIntyre
THE JUNTA DE ANDALUCÍA ANNOUNCED RECENTLY THAT IT IS WORKING ON LEGISLATION THAT WILL EMPOWER TOWN HALLS TO REGULATE AND CONTROL THE COMMON STREET DRINKING PARTIES KNOWN AS ‘EL BOTELLÓN’.
Following this announcement, the Benalmádena Business Association (ACEB) has called on the local Town Hall to take speedy action. ACEB’s president, Mosé Montiel, last week requested that local officials immediately begin drawing up an ordinance to ban the ‘botellón’ parties in the zones most affected by the phenomenon: Plaza Solymar, Puerto Marina and the adjacent beaches.
The late-night gatherings of young revellers, particularly common on weekends, “fill the streets with urine, empty alcohol bottles and all kinds of rubbish,” said Sr Montiel. The result is a black-eye on the town’s tourism image and economic losses for local businesses, he said.
ACEB criticises the Junta’s decision to hand off the ‘botellón’ problem to the town halls rather than taking direct action itself, but now that the decision has been taken, the group wants Benalmádena Town Hall to have municipal ordinances in place in time for next summer. However, it is not yet clear whether the Junta’s new legislation, which is currently in draft form, will be finalised and passed into law by that time.
Meanwhile, Junta de Andalucía President Manuel Chaves last week responded to one of the major criticisms of the draft ‘botellón’ bill, its lack of financial support for town halls. He confirmed that no special financing would be provided for regulation and enforcement, but indicated that the Junta would consider co-financing related projects like the creation or outfitting of special zones where the drinking parties would be allowed, such as at fairgrounds or other municipal spaces.
Alhaurín population set to break 30,000
NEWS Staff Reporter
Municipal officials in Alhaurín de la Torre have announced that the town’s official population is expected to break 30,000 sometime in the month of October. At the time of the announcement last week, Town Hall records showed a registered population of exactly 29,788. Officials say they are planning a prize and special mention for the person who becomes the town’s 30,000th official resident.
A look at municipal census figures shows that Alhaurín has been in a steady and rapid growth spurt starting as far back as 1970. That year, there were 6,401 registered residents in the town, a figure that by 1980 had jumped nearly 20 per cent to 7,645. By 1991, the population had shot up to 12,874, already double the 1980 figure. In 2000, there were 21,649 registered residents, and just five years later, in January 2005, the population had surged 32 per cent to 28,531. According to Town Hall data, the number of registered foreign residents in the town has increased at a similar rate in recent years, averaging almost eight per cent a year.
Malaga goes with European mobility
Town hall announces new initiatives for city
By Dave Jamieson
AS HUNDREDS OF COMMUNITIES ACROSS EUROPE BEGAN A WEEK OF EVENTS DESIGNED TO PERSUADE PEOPLE TO CHOOSE FORMS OF TRANSPORT OTHER THAN CARS, MÁLAGA TOWN HALL ANNOUNCED NEW INITIATIVES FOR THE CITY.
It is one of around 900 which are promoting European Mobility Week which began last Friday, and this year takes the theme of Clever Commuting. The event aims, for a few days, to open up the possibility of a world where cars do not dominate the physical environment and where people are not harmed by the pollutants that pour from them.
Málaga’s mayor, Francisco de la Torre, marked the start of the week by announcing a number of measures aimed at improving traffic flow and benefiting pedestrians in the city. The most important will be the opening of bus lanes in both directions along avenida de Andalucía for around a kilometre between the Manuel Alcántara roundabout and Carranque. Councillors expect this will reduce the time taken for buses to travel along this road, which will especially beneficial to services 20 to the University, 14 to Portada Alta and 25 to Campanillas.
The second innovation will be in the Alameda Principal and is described as “traffic calming”. The cycle of traffic lights is to be changed to give pedestrians a longer time to cross the roads, which is intended to reinforce safety and to encourage people to walk when getting around the city centre. In addition, two-wheeled transport is being encouraged with the addition of 100 new parking places for bicycles and mopeds at various central locations.
CAR FREE DAY
Last Sunday, European Car Free Day, was celebrated in Málaga with cycle rides through the city as well as a number of special events in the Paseo del Parque. And to encourage the use of public transport, all EMT bus services were operating free of charge.
Health care funding debate
By Dave Jamieson
The Government’s proposals to raise taxes to bail out the Spanish health service (CDSN September 8 to 14) has been roundly rejected by regional leaders, leaving the sector in a financial crisis.
PM Zapatero offered regional leaders 1.7 billion euros to cover around a third of the 5 billion euro shortfall in healthcare funding, expecting the regions to accept his plans for raising local taxes to generate an extra 1.8 billion euros. But leaders of the country’s 17 autonomous regions have said they will not raise their taxes, and the opposition Partido Popular rejected the whole idea.
However, in spite of the regions rejection of the plan, Sr. Zapatero’s government this week went ahead with a 10 per cent increase on alcohol prices and a 5,4 per cent increase on tobacco prices. It now remains to be seen whether the government will reach an agreement with the regions for an increase on petrol and power prices, which are taxed at a regional level.
The issue has now become the first major political crisis for José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, with his socialist government struggling to accommodate the needs of more than four million immigrants who have entered Spain in the past five years, a bigger influx than in any other European country. In addition, around 55 million tourists visit Spain each year and are entitled to free medical care, with some taking advantage of the situation and placing public services under severe strain. One former British consular official in the Basque country last week alleged that an appreciable number of elderly British visitors slip off the gangway as they disembark from the ferry in Bilbao, in order to qualify for hip replacement surgery here. Doctors refer to them as “medical tourists”.
Andalucía, which has similar problems, is demanding extra cash to cover the costs of treatment for non-residents. The region, which is responsible for the provision of its healthcare services, has run up a big deficit, in turn creating a rift between it and other regions, such as the Basque country which has a well-funded health service. The tension has also affected relations between Sr Zapatero's government and his regional allies, particularly Cataluña, which wants central government to establish a new tax-sharing regime to increase the region's fiscal autonomy. Madrid, where a million new arrivals in recent years have put a strain on resources, is also in trouble. The regional government there says it needs an extra 1.7 billion euros to cut hospital waiting lists and attend to its immigrant community.
Central government presently funds the Spanish service to the tune of 45 billion euros annually, but a health care expert says that giving health responsibilities to the regions was badly planned. Antonio Díaz Morales of Madrid’s Instituto de Empresa business school claims that while the regions took the cash, there was no common strategy or central guidelines on how it was to be spent. The resultant lack of co-ordination, he says, has produced a big rise in healthcare spending.
The Spanish Health service was set up in 1986 and copied the UK model. It is almost entirely funded by taxation and currently costs around 6% of Spain’s gross domestic product. British citizens who own Spanish property are fully covered by the Spanish National Health service when in Spain. Workers contributing to the Spanish social security system are covered for free health care, as are their families, plus retirees from any EU country.
Henna tatoos health warning
News Staff Reporter
The Junta de Andalucía’s Public Health Authority last week warned “the entire population of Andalucía, and especially children,” to avoid the use of so-called ‘black henna’ for temporary tattoos. The alert came after 25 children in the Granada town of Guadix suffered burning allergic reactions to the product, which officials say contains the chemical PPD, normally used in hair dye. The children had received the henna tattoos at the municipal booth at the local fair.
Junta officials have opened up investigative proceedings against the Málaga-based company Aguijón Azul, which provided the black henna used at the Guadix fair. The company had distributed the product to customers in the provinces of Granada, Málaga, Cádiz and Almería, and had also offered it for sale via Internet, according to officials.
It is known that in Nerja municipal officials recently received at least one complaint from a British man who said his two granddaughters had suffered severe allergic reactions from henna tattoos received at Burriana beach (CDSN, September 15 – 21). And The Sun newspaper in the UK reported in late August the case of a 14-year-old girl from Lechlade, Gloucs, who had burning and scarring from a black henna tattoo she got while on holiday in Mallorca.
The problem appears to be specifically with a product referred to as black henna, which is not pure henna but is made, at least in part, with the chemical para-phenylenediamine to make a darker, more real-looking tattoo. The chemical can cause an allergic reaction in some people, burning the skin and leaving potentially permanent scarring.
Health officials say the product being distributed by Aguijón Azul was not properly labelled and did not have Health Department authorisation. The company says it did not alter or manipulate the product in any way, and simply sold it as received from its supplier. It says it too feels like a victim in the case, and has contacted its clients to inform them not to use the product.
Junta officials said a sample of the black henna has been sent to the State Drug and Medicine Agency to determine if a countrywide alert is necessary.
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