Costa del Sol News - 15th February 2006

News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol

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The Costa del Sol weekly newspaper, on sale at newsagents.

Week February 9th to February 15th 2006.


Man dies in Marbella after being subdued by local POLICE

By David Eade

Francisco Urquía, the judge of Marbella’s No.2 court, is investigating the death and the four officers involved have been provisionally relieved of their duties. The two civilians, both Spaniards who worked in nearby premises, were held overnight but released on the Tuesday morning after giving evidence before the judge.

At the time of going to press the body of the supposedly British male had undergone a preliminary post mortem at the Málaga Institute of Legal Medicine. The results were not sufficiently conclusive to determine the cause of death but the forensic team stated that the injuries suffered ‘did not justify’ his death. The body of the man described as a ‘foreigner, of around 50 years and still unidentified’ would now be sent to the Institute of Toxicology in Sevilla for further tests to determine the exact cause of death.

According to the version of events given by the head of the local police, Rafael del Pozo, the police received calls from the owner of a shop in the Calle Camilo José Cela to alert them that a man, dressed just in pyjama trousers, was in the street insulting passers-by. When police arrived at the scene the Briton, who was middle aged and strongly built, was in the adjoining Calle Gregorio Marañón close to Marbella’s promenade. Police say the man was acting in an agitated and disturbed manner.

Sr Del Pozo said that the police officers decided to subdue and arrest the Briton. It is alleged that seconds after he was detained he had an attack. The ambulance service was then summoned but the man had died before medical help arrived.

In contrast to the police version of events eyewitnesses say that the four police officers used ‘excessive force and were brutal’ in their arrest.

Meanwhile the four local police officers will remain on suspension until the judge decides whether they should face charges. Police chief Del Pozo stated at a press conference that two of the officers had served with the local police for many years, one for over 15 years, whilst the other two had served for three and six years. One of the officers received several months ago the Marbella Gold Medal of Merit for saving a baby in Las Chapas.

The Briton’s death has led to calls from the Partido Andalucista and PSOE for the mayor of Marbella, Marisol Yagüe, to set up a commission to investigate the tragedy. PA spokesperson, Pedro Pérez, stated that it was necessary ‘for the good name of the local police and Marbella’. PSOE councillor, Silvestre Puertas added: “It will cause even more alarm in our town.” As of yet the Mayor of Marbella has declined to comment other than asking people to be “calm and cautious” ahead of the results of the judicial investigation.

Parents protest over construction cranes

By Oliver McIntyre

“Our children play here every day,” said Juan Gómez, president of the parents’ association (AMPA), as he stood on the playground court in the shadow of one of the cranes. Pointing to the large construction site, he told Costa del Sol News, “There are many other places they could have set up the cranes – and they put them right here next to the schoolyard.”

Besides the risk of something falling from one of the cranes, the parents are concerned about the possibility of the cranes themselves collapsing or falling over. “In Benalmádena there are often extremely strong winds,” said Sr Gómez.

Allison Harcourt, a long-time British resident of Benalmádena who has two children at Jacaranda, participated in the protest. “I’m just here to try to help make a difference,” she told CDSN. Looking at the cranes towering overhead, she said, “It just doesn’t seem very well thought out.”

The AMPA says it complained to the Town Hall when the cranes started to be installed, and that Education councillor María José Bustos came out with the local police to inspect the situation and take photographs. But no action was taken to stop the erection of the cranes or move their location.

A Town Hall spokesperson told CDSN that the construction project and the cranes have all the proper licences and are totally legal. “The risk is no greater than with cranes in any other populated location,” said the spokesperson. However, he said, as in other similar situations – like at the La Leala school in Arroyo de la Miel, which also has a construction crane nearby – the Town Hall requires that the cranes not be operated during the school’s recreation and play-time hours.

Britons arrested in timeshare resale scam

By Oliver McIntyre

The company, located in La Cala de Mijas was identified early in the year by investigators who had long been following the trail of “interconnected groups” of Britons operating scams in which timeshare owners were swindled by false promises to resell their timeshare weeks.

“After weeks of intense surveillance that confirmed the fraudulent activity of this company, and the arrival of the first complaint from England, the police operation was launched,” said police officials on Monday.

The police carried out searches and arrested 17 people – 15 identified as British and two as Irish – connected with the company and its activities. The Britons were identified as Joan A. (50); Deborah Mary K. (37); June M. (45); Lorna W. (38); Mandy M. (36); Lawrence R. (40); Denise Joy R. (50); Carly Shannon B. (21); Harderp G. (41); Sally G. (57); Deborah Elisabeth B. (43); Alistair Beck M. (59); Tina Lorraine N. (35); Lisa Jane M. (34); and Catherine Anne H. (49). The two identified as Irish were Kian Brian O. (35) and Lawrence James O. (65).

“Responsibility for the fraud lies not just with the owners and operators of this type of ‘company’,” said police officials. “The collaboration and knowledge of the telesales employees is indispensable for perpetrating the scam.”

According to the police, organised British groups have been operating timeshare resale scams from the Costa del Sol “since 2001.” The police say the groups operate as follows: They call timeshare owners and offer them the opportunity to sell their week(s) at a very attractive price. If the owner accepts, he or she is typically required to pay an upfront fee of around 1,200 euros to cover taxes, legal expenses or some other cost of the transaction. By the time the victim realises the scam, the company has disappeared.

Police officials say this type of fraud ‘has by now caused tens of thousands of victims throughout Europe, astronomical financial losses … and a lack of confidence among foreigners in real-estate and vacation companies, especially those operating in the Costa del Sol and Tenerife’.

Embargoes on tax deadbeats reduce Town Hall debt

By Oliver McIntyre

Benalmádena Town Hall’s campaign of embargoing assets from people with outstanding tax debts is helping to slash the Town Hall’s own debts to creditors and suppliers. Tax councillor Manuel Crespo announced last week that since he took control of the department in September 2005, the 44 million-euro municipal debt has been reduced by eight million euros. In addition, an agreement has been reached to defer for four years some 25 million euros the Town Hall owes to 14 different companies, he said.
Sr Crespo did not specify how much of the eight million-euro reduction in Town Hall debt came from the tax-deadbeat embargo campaign. In September of last year, the Town Hall said the campaign had resulted in the collection of 900,000 euros in back taxes. Faced with the threat of embargo, many targets of the action quickly settled accounts to avoid losing their property, said officials at the time.

The embargo plan was first announced in June of last year, with the Town Hall threatening to seize cash or assets in relation to some 6,000 homes or buildings whose owners had failed to pay municipal taxes or fees. As much as 80 per cent of the unpaid taxes were owed by foreign homeowners or foreign-owned businesses, the Town Hall said at the time. The majority of the outstanding tax debts were for IBI real-estate tax, capital gains on real-estate sales and municipal garbage fees, said officials.

Italian doctor and Briton shot in Marbella street

By David Eade

A 41-year-old Italian doctor and his 31-year-old British brother-in-law were shot in the Calle Las Yedras in Nueva Andalucía close to the El Dorado apartment building.

The attack happened as the two victims and the wife of the doctor who is the sister of the Briton got out of their car to go to their home. Two men in dark clothing approached them and fired four shots. The woman was left shocked but unharmed.
It is believed that the doctor is the head of The Garden Medical Century Centre general practice and that he also works in a private Marbella clinic as a surgeon. An ambulance of Helicópteros Sanitarios that happened to be passing gave medical help to the two men and advised the police.

The two victims were rushed to the USP hospital in Marbella. The doctor had been shot in both legs whilst the Briton had been hit in the arm and abdomen. Initially their condition was said to be serious but not dangerous. In the event both were released from hospital on Monday.

The National Police violent crime squad is investigating the shooting and found various 765 calibre spent cartridges at the scene. A local resident said that the doctor’s family had lived there for several years and that their house had been robbed two years ago.

Alhaurín quarry conflict turns violent

News Staff Reporter

A meeting held last Friday by the anti-quarry group Platform in Defence of Alhaurín de la Torre’s Health and Sierra (PDSS) turned violent when a group of quarry workers got into a scuffle with some of the group’s members and the public.

The meeting, attended by around 300 people, had been called by PDSS to inform the public of its assessment of the current situation at the quarries. The group charges that the Troconal, Taralpe and Pinos de Alhaurín quarries are continuing with extraction work when they are supposed to be limited to treatment of existing stockpiles. PDSS says it has video and photographs to back up its charges, which it has filed with the Guardia Civil.

At Friday’s meeting, a group of quarry workers in attendance reportedly grew angry when PDSS representatives said they would not handle questions during their presentation. A heated argument ensued, and when a PDSS representative tried to take a photograph of the increasingly intense scene, tempers flared even further and quarry workers began throwing chairs, eggs and stones, according to some people present. At least two people were injured in the melee. Opposition Izquierda Unida councillor and PDSS member Mercedes Ávila said she was hit in the leg by a chair.

Guardia Civil and police backups were called to the scene, but even so a group of around 30 people, including PDSS representatives, were stuck for several hours inside the municipal multipurpose building where the meeting was held, fearful to leave because of the continued threats from quarry workers outside the building. When they finally were able to leave, many did so escorted by officers.

More than 70 people filed reports with the Guardia Civil following the incident. IU councillor Mercedes Ávila said she planned to take the case to the Andalucía Parliament and the Congress, claiming the group’s right to assembly and freedom of expression had been breached.

Some quarry workers also filed reports with the Guardia Civil, saying that it was PDSS representatives who started the incident.

Nerja gets tough with repeat safety offenders

By Dave Jamieson


Nerja is promising another crackdown on motorcycle riders, this time targeting those who repeatedly refuse to wear a safety helmet. The Town Hall says it will impose fines of between 150 and 300 euros, depending on how many times the individual has previously been fined for the same offence. First-time offenders are fined 92 euros with a discount for early payment.

Already, ten such cases are pending, according to traffic councillor Francisco Adrián Fernández, with one local resident having been sanctioned no fewer than 12 times in recent months. Sr Fernández says the individual will be fined the maximum 300 euros. Ten others have received four previous fines and will now have to pay 150 euros.

The councillor also claims that the number of cases has dropped by 75 per cent since Nerja’s local police introduced routine spot checks. The majority of offenders are minors, he said, and their parents are now sent a letter detailing the incident for which they have been fined.

Local people, however, disagree that things have improved, citing the numerous riders – particularly young people – who are seen every day on the town’s roads travelling without wearing the compulsory helmet. Recently, a petition to the Town Hall from Spanish residents demanded action against those who drive motorcycles dangerously, including youngsters practicing “wheelies” on public roads or manoeuvring riskily and those who drive at high speed, often without lights at night.


Nerja beach road's quick reprieve

By Dave Jamieson

Nerja Town Hall has breathed a sigh of relief after a quick turnaround by the Ministry of the Environment.
Through its Costas department, the Ministry last week decided to prohibit traffic from driving on a track along the length of Playa Playazo, the town’s most westerly beach. Newly erected signs declared it to be out of bounds to vehicles as part of a surprise ruling which also banned camping and caravans.

The Town Hall was angered by the announcement, particularly as it had recently invested in lighting for the road and introduced a one-way system following complaints of traffic congestion. In addition, following an earlier request from Costas to close the road, Nerja councillors last month reached agreement with Sociedad Azucarera Larios S.A., the owners of five agricultural plots bordering onto the beach road, to use their land for car parking, free of charge, for a period of three years, a move which had apparently been accepted.

When the closure ruling was received, Nerja’s councillor for beaches, José Miguel García, also pointed out that the road was not only used by pedestrians, but by the farmers and growers whose land was in the same area. A number of bars and restaurants along the length of the beach would also have suffered if vehicular traffic continued to be barred, but contact between Nerja’s Mayor, José Alberto Armijo, and Juan Carlos Fernández, the chief of the Costas department in Málaga, appears to have resolved the problem. A fax was quickly received from the department reversing the initial decision and opening the road for use by everyone, with the proviso that the parking spaces promised by the Town Hall come into use within a short space of time.

Sussex project sparks new controversy

Governor of Gibraltar’s statement leads to protest from Madrid

By David Eade

This statement, made on behalf of the UK government, led to an immediate angry response from Spain.
In last week’s Costa del Sol News a statement was printed from the Odyssey company that made it clear that one of the main reasons for its decision to temporarily suspend work on the wreck revolved around a suspected dispute over jurisdictional issues concerning territorial waters. This led the Governor to make a statement to the effect that Britain’s territorial waters extended for three miles and that under international convention that jurisdiction could be enlarged to 12 miles.

This led to a formal protest from Spain and the British Embassy in Madrid confirmed that the Spanish Foreign Ministry had delivered a verbal note on the matter. It is believed that Madrid declared that the waters around Gibraltar, including those where Sussex may lie, are Spanish. This would be in line with Spain’s traditional stance that it only recognises the British possession as set out in the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713 and only accepts that British sovereignty extends over the waters within the Gibraltar port area.

The Governor’s statement has led the opposition GSLP/Liberal coalition in Gibraltar to call on the British government to extend its territorial waters around the Rock to the full 12-mile limit where that was possible under the terms of the UN convention. As of yet the Gibraltar government has made no formal statement on the dispute and Madrid has made it clear that it does not want the row to overshadow the next round of tri-partite talks between Britain, Spain and Gibraltar that will be held at Chevening House in Kent on February 20 and 21.

For its part Odyssey has now sent the results of its preliminary tests on the site of the presumed HMS Sussex wreck site to the British government. These are being studied by the Ministry of Defence experts in London to ascertain whether indeed the wreck is that of the English warship that sank with a valuable cargo of gold coins in bad weather in 1694. If it is, then the documentation will be sent to the Spanish government after which a decision will have to be made on the resumption of the exploration and salvage project.


Vuelta de Andalucía kicks off

By Oliver McIntyre

Andalucía’s biggest annual bicycle race, the Vuelta de Andalucía, begins its 52nd edition this Sunday, February 12, in Antequera. The five-day race will take riders on 829-kilometre tour of the region, ending on Thursday, February 16, in Sevilla.

Many of the country’s best riders will compete in the race. Along the route, they will huff their way up 14 mountain passes, 13 of them considered Category 3 and one Category 2.

The first leg, on Sunday, departs from Antequera and passes through Archidona, Villavueva del Trabuco and into the province of Granada, through Zafarraya, Alhama de Granada, Ogíjares and other towns before riders cross the day’s finish line at Santa Clara Golf in Otura.

Monday’s leg departs from La Guardia de Jaén and takes riders on a 157.2-kilometre route ending in the city of Jaén. On Tuesday the province of Córdoba is the scene of the action, as racers leave Cabra to pedal 174.1 kilometres to the capital city. Wednesday brings the race back closer to the Costa, with riders departing from Ecija in Sevilla and racing through the Sierra de Yeguas into Málaga province and through towns like Fuente de Piedra and Humilladero before making their way to the day’s finish line in Ronda. The final stretch, on Thursday, starts in Olvera (Cádiz) and passes through Morón de la Frontera, Marchena, Guadajoz and other towns before riders cross the final finish line in the city of Sevilla.


Two arrested in timeshare fraud

By David Eade

One of the couples said that at a meeting at the Puerta Tierra Hotel last month they had agreed to buy a week’s holiday ownership anywhere in Spain between January and September, for 450 euros. They claim they were not permitted to read the contract and it was only afterwards that they realised they had signed for a week in a Marbella resort every year until April 2052, at a cost of 28,995 euros, less a discount of 2,880 euros for buying immediately.

Although there is a 10-day cooling-off period during which people who sign such contracts can cancel, the couple say the company arranged another meeting twelve days later to finalise all the paperwork with the staff becoming very aggressive when they refused to pay. The company in question is said to have been the subject of hundreds of complaints, and reportedly changes its name to enable it to continue operating more easily. The two women who were detained allegedly refused to give the police any information about their employers, and were released on bail.

Mortgage payments rise with Euribor

By Oliver McIntyre

The average mortgage holder in Spain faces increasing mortgage payments as the Euribor interest index continues to rise, closing out January at 2.833 per cent, its highest since December 2002 and more than half a point above its January 2005 level.
It will be mid-February before Spain’s central bank, Banco de España, certifies the end-of-January Euribor rate, but when it does, variable-rate mortgage holders could see their monthly payments jump by as much 80 euros, or even more, depending on the size of their loan.

The Ausbanc banking-consumer association calculates that a 178,000-euro, 25-year variable-rate loan taken out in mid-2003, when the Euribor was at its historic low of 2.014 per cent, would see increased payments of “around 70 euros a month or 800 euros a year” at the new end-of-January rate. The larger the loan, the greater the increased payment would be.

The January Euribor rate will affect those variable-rate mortgage holders whose annual revision of their interest rate occurs in the 30 days following Banco de España’s certification of the end-of-January rate. Because of the way many banks set different interest rates for the first year and then subsequent years, the amount of increase in monthly payments will depend on how long ago the loan was taken out. According to Spanish Mortgage Association (AHE), those that took out loans in 2003 and 2004 will be the most severely affected.

The Euribor is the interest-rate index most frequently used by banks in Spain to set the interest on variable-rate loans. The vast majority of mortgage loans in the country are variable-rate loans, a phenomenon that has raised concerns about the possible impact that rising Euribor rates could cause on families as their mortgage payments balloon, potentially beyond their means. The AHE has urged the government to take measures to promote the use of fixed-rate loans.

Tobacco price war escalates

By Dave Jamieson

The surprise price cut by one cigarette manufacturer (CDSN last week) has led to a tobacco war in Spanish tobacconists. The Government has responded with talk of another tax hike and possible revisions to the new laws.

Two weeks ago, the US company Philip Morris reduced a pack of Marlboro from 2.75 to 2.35 euros, making it cheaper than its arch-rival Fortuna by 15 centímos. The aggressive move was greeted with dismay by consumer and health groups as it followed Government efforts to stem a flood of cheap brand cigarettes, claimed to target young smokers, by raising taxes one percentage point.

Altaldis, manufacturer of Fortuna, Nobel and Ducados, had responded by raising its prices to absorb the increase. However, after the move by Marlboro, Spain’s best-selling brand with almost 17 per cent of the market, Altaldis last week did an about turn and slashed its prices by 26 per cent, bringing down the price of 20 Fortuna and Nobel to 1.85 euros, with most Ducados brands down 50 centímos at 2.00 euros. Then last Saturday, Japan Tobacco, which owns international rights to brands including Camel and Winston, joined the party. The price of Camel, the fifth best-selling brand in the country, fell 40 centímos to 2.00 euros. Alicante-based Altaldis called for immediate governmental action to stabilise the cigarette market and allow for price rises in the short term. The Government’s response to the round of cost-cutting has been to confirm that it would consider further rises in taxes, which presently total 77.4 per cent of the retail price of cigarettes, about the European average.

An estimated 80 per cent of kiosks across Málaga were closed for one day last week as owners joined protests in the capital, as well as Sevilla and Madrid, to demand the return of their right to sell tobacco products. Málaga Town Council has approved a motion in support, asking central Government to amend the new legislation in favour of the kiosks. Health minister Elena Salgado has also said that the legislation introduced on January 1 to prohibit smoking in public places may be revisited in a year or so if it has not had the desired results. Given that 70 per cent of the population do not smoke, the Minister said she expected that the majority of small bars would become non-smoking, but last week admitted that this has not been so. She indicated that harsher action could be taken to emulate countries such as Italy, Ireland and Norway where smoking in such places is totally banned.

Massive fraud in second-hand cars exposed

More than 20 people arrested in odometer-tampering scam

By Dave Jamieson

Officers have arrested more than 20 people in connection with an investigation into illegal changes to second-hand vehicles in what is being described as a massive fraud. It is thought as many as 15,000 cars could have been involved.

At the centre of the operation appears to have been one person with the know-how: a 41-year-old man who was arrested last Thursday as he left an industrial estate in the city. He is accused of changing the digital displays of numerous vehicles to reduce the distance they appear to have travelled. His work, described as “low cost and to order,” is alleged to have included rental cars, vehicles in repair workshops and those acquired by second-hand dealers across an area including Torremolinos, Fuengirola, Mijas, Antequera and Nerja, as well as the capital.

When arrested, the detainee was found to be carrying the electronic equipment necessary to change dashboard displays, plus technical documents containing specifications of the majority of makes and models presently in use. He is reported to have charged between 30 and 40 euros per vehicle, and to have worked on an average of 10 every day. Reports say a typical job would be to change the display on the odometer of a second-hand car from 30,000 to 15,000 kilometres, an investment on the part of the dealer which would increase the vehicle’s price. The Federation of Consumers’ Associations in Málaga estimated that for every 10,000 kilometres taken off the odometer of a second-hand car, its price would rise by 600 euros.

Investigators say the fraud affects the purchaser of the vehicle which has been tampered with, who is paying more than it is really worth, and also affects the car’s safety because the lifetime of some components is defined by the distance travelled. They consider that the fraud could have put the lives of many drivers in danger as a result.

The police operation saw 24 individuals detained with 17 businesses under investigation throughout the province. While the majority are in the city of Málaga, a number of car rental companies at the airport are also believed to be included in enquiries. Investigators say that this may only be the tip of the iceberg as they examine documentation which may provide links between the central figure detained and other second-hand and rental car dealers.

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