News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol
In association with
Week May 18th to May 24th 2006
WATCH OUT FOR BOGUS GAS MEN!
Special meeting to be held at Nerja Town Hall
BY DAVE JAMIESON
THE FOREIGNERS' DEPARTMENT AT NERJA TOWN HALL HAS ISSUED FURTHER WARNINGS ABOUT BOGUS GAS MEN IN THE AREA AND ARRANGED A MEETING WITH EXPAT RESIDENTS FOR MAY 31ST TO DISCUSS THE ISSUE.
The move follows a recent incident, reported by Costa del Sol News last week when an elderly foreign resident was charged 425 euros by a fake inspector who did no more than dust a connecting pipe. Officers said the alleged 'work' took eight minutes and did not even include renewing the pipe which was out of date and required replacing.
RECENT WAVE OF COMPLAINTS
The Department reports that it has recently received many similar complaints regarding fake gas inspection companies apparently operating from Málaga to Nerja.
Typically, their representatives inform home owners that it is compulsory to make the gas inspection, often literally forcing their way inside. The Foreigners' Department's official advice is never to let anyone who claims to be a gas inspector enter your home, unless the gas inspector's visit has been arranged previously with an official company.
LEGAL GAS BUSINESSES
The Town Hall has named two legal gas businesses in Nerja – García y Hijos and Servigas – which both have established offices with guarantees. They will visit by appointment to make an official and detailed gas inspection.
This month's special conference for foreign residents will deal with the problem in more detail. All residents are invited to attend on May 31 when other topics to be discussed include registering at the Town Hall, residence cards and the pensioners' card.
The meeting, which begins at 12.30 in the Salón de Actos, on the second floor of the Town Hall, is one of a series held on the last Wednesday of every month.
Málaga hotels set to be crippled by strike action
Stoppages announced for a number of days in June, July and August
BY DAVE JAMIESON
THE TOURIST SECTOR IS SET TO BE SEVERELY DISRUPTED BY 14 DAYS OF STRIKE ACTION BY MÁLAGA HOTEL WORKERS.
Trades unions have announced dates for the walkouts after talks with management broke up last week without agreement.
The UGT and CCOO unions said that their members in the province of Málaga would be called out on various dates over the next three months, subject to the approval of a meeting of delegates which was scheduled for late yesterday. The days on which employees in hotels and tourist apartments will stop work are June 22 to 25, July 20 to 23 and August 1 to 6, with a demonstration outside places of employment likely on July 1.
The action will involve 12,000 of the two unions' 35,000 strong membership in the province. While agreements on pay have already been reached with restaurant and function room owners, as well as with those employing personnel on beaches, no such accord has been forthcoming with those operating hotels and apartments, represented by the Patronal Hotelera de Costa del Sol, on a deal for chambermaids, cleaners, receptionists and other staff. Amongst union demands are a rise of 25 euros per month and overtime of 175 per cent of salary for those who have to work on public holidays.
HOTELS 'FORCED TO CLOSE'
The UGT's tourism secretary Jose Antonio Sedano said that the strikes would lead to most of the hotels being forced to close, adding it would "undoubtedly cause a massive disruption to people's holidays but the employers have refused to meet our very reasonable demands and we have no option but to strike."
Hotel bosses described the strike threat as "madness". Jose Prieto, president of the Costa del Sol Hospitality Business Association, said, "We have made the unions several offers which they have refused to accept, but we are confident the issues can be resolved without strike action. Nobody wants to strike." A spokesman for the Association of British Travel Agents described the summer strike as "a very short sighted thing which could seriously damage tourism", but assured holiday-makers that contingency plans would be in place.
Suspected boss of Real IRA gang arrested
By Oliver McIntyre
Spanish police have arrested the man they believe to be the leader of a gang of Real IRA members who allegedly trafficked in contraband cigarettes to raise money for the North Ireland terrorism outfit. The man, Sean O., was picked up earlier this week in the Alicante town of Rojales, where police say he fled following the May 7 arrests in Málaga of two other alleged members of the gang (CDSN, May 11 – 17).
The two men arrested in Málaga were Thomas Philip C., 32, a Dubliner who lived in San Pedro de Alcántara, and Aaron William J., 42, from Lisburn, County Antrim, who resided in Benalmádena. Police caught them in a Málaga industrial park with two lorries containing nearly 500,000 packs of contraband cigarettes.
Officials say that with this week's arrest of Sean O., the case, code-named 'Operation Booming', is closed.
2000 Tolox homes 'illegal'
NEWS Staff Reporter
The Junta de Andalucía's Public Works Department has filed a case with the environmental prosecutor's office charging Tolox Town Hall of conceding licences for the construction of some 2,000 homes. Public Works says the 15 licences in question were issued between 2004 and 2006 and allow residential development on land that is not classified for building.
The projects include large apartment complexes as well as duplexes and townhouses, some already nearly completed and others in the earlier stages of land-moving or construction, according to Public Works. The department has also requested that the Andalucía high court impugn the disputed licences.
Tolox Town Hall included the 2,000 homes in its new local development plan (PGOU), which has been approved in draft form by the Town Council but has not yet been finalised and approved by the Junta. Mayor Juan Vera has defended the legality of all the challenged construction projects, saying that according to the regional Land Law, in towns where an updated PGOU has not yet taken effect, all land with water, electricity and sewage services is considered developable. However, he also indicated that some of the projects could be modified if it is determined legally necessary.
Priceless Stradivarius seized in prostitution bust
Gang brought women from Romania to work Spain's streets
By Oliver McIntyre
POLICE HAVE RECOVERED A VALUABLE ANTIQUE VIOLIN IN THE BREAK-UP OF A PROSTITUTION RING THAT OPERATED OUT OF SPAIN AND HAD INFRASTRUCTURE BOTH HERE AND IN ROMANIA.
In the bust last week, police in Barcelona and Málaga arrested 11 Romanians and two Spaniards, and seized a variety of goods including a 1715 Stradivarius violin, according to officials. The police did not put an exact value on the instrument, but if it is indeed authentic it could be worth hundreds of thousands of euros or more. The record sale price for a Strad at auction is more than 1.5m euros. It is estimated that there are currently around 600 Stradivarius violins in existence but that figure does not include those in former Soviet Block countries from which the discovered Strad could have come.
The investigation began in March following the arrest in Málaga and Castellón of 15 alleged members of an organised-crime group and 46 undocumented foreigners. Police say investigators uncovered an international operation whose members were active in a variety of EU countries inlcuding Germany, Switzerland, France and Holland. In Spain the outfit was being managed by an inmate at a Salamanca prison, who from his jail cell issued orders for the importation of women from Romania to be sold or rented out as prostitutes on the streets of Málaga, Barcelona and other Spanish cities.
'TURF' RENTED TO PIMPS
The gang arranged for the procurement of women in Romania, their transport into Spain and their sale to pimps who paid 800 to 1,000 euros per woman plus a monthly rent for the right to prostitute the woman on the gang's 'turf'. The women worked 10-hour days and in some cases were also required to sell drugs to their clients, in order to increase the gang's revenues, say police. The operation is still open and further arrests could be made.
Roca and Marcos appear in court
By David Eade
Both the former town-planning advisor to Marbella Town Hall, Juan Antonio Roca, and the former deputy mayor, Isabel García Marcos, appeared in court on Tuesday to face two different court hearings. Both have been jailed provisionally for their alleged roles in the 'Operation Malaya' municipal corruption case.
Roca and García Marcos were transferred to the court from the Alhaurín de la Torre prison in separate vans under Guardia Civil escort, arriving in Marbella at around 8.50.
It was the second time that Roca has faced Judge Miguel Ángel Torres, the magistrate in charge of the 'Malaya' investigation. Roca, the presumed mastermind behind the alleged corruption at Marbella Town Hall, was arrested on March 29. He faces a wide range of charges from money laundering to environmental offences and the provincial court has turned down his lawyer's application for release on bail.
Meanwhile, Isabel García Marcos faced Judge Gonzalo Dívar in a hearing related not to 'Operation Malaya' but to the case against her and other councillors in former mayor Marisol Yagüe's ruling team in connection with the works at Yagüe's Marbella home.
MUÑOZ IN COURT
Also in court this week was Yagüe's predecessor as mayor, Julián Muñoz. He and another six councillors faced multiple charges relating to town-planning offences. The group answered a total of five charges before two different judges on the same day.
The charges relate to offences under the town's 1986 local development plan, the only one recognised by the regional government and courts. The defendants' united defence is that they approved the developments in question because each had received a favourable report from the Town Hall's town-planning officials.
Nerja continues protests on 'POT' plans
BY DAVE JAMIESON
NERJA'S MAYOR SAYS THE COASTS EAST OF MÁLAGA ARE BEING POORLY TREATED, COMPARED WITH THOSE TO THE WEST OF THE CAPITAL.
The comments by the Partido Popular (PP) Mayor José Alberto Armijo came as he continued his public criticism of the plan which appears to have denied his town its planned golf course, while his party has announced the formation of an investigating commission working at local and regional levels.
The controversial Planes de Ordenación de Territorio (POTs), which define development plans for the next decade, were under discussion at last week's meeting of the Andaluz Federation of Municipalities and Provinces when Sr Armijo highlighted what he perceived as a lack of geographic balance. He claimed that coastal areas west of the city of Málaga have been promised an investment of 4,200 million euros over 15 years in the plans, whereas those to the east can only expect 526 million – more than 87 per cent less – spread over 20 years. In addition, he said, while the eastern coast has been denied development of a rail link, the local rail services to the west will receive an investment of 1,816 million euros.
POSSIBLE 'ILLEGALITY' OF THE POT
Meanwhile, the PP has announced the establishment of a technical commission to study the consequences likely to stem from implementation of plans included in the POTs. According to the PP's Málaga president, Joaquín Ramírez, it will also determine the possible "illegality" of the documents. He said the commission's composition would be primarily of lawyers, engineers and architects.
The commission will focus particularly on the Axarquía where Sr Ramírez said there was, 'great concern for the future of Nerja', and referred to the 'irresponsibility' of socialist mayors and the Junta de Andalucía. Nerja, he said, 'cannot be boycotted by the Junta as a tourist destination'.
RESIDENTS' SUPPORT SOUGHT
A public meeting at Nerja's Town Hall last Friday called for the support of the town's residents in protesting to the Junta and demanding the return of the planned golf course and marina, as well as the provision of more building land. Representatives from around 60 local associations heard Mayor Armijo warn of 'an uncertain and very dark future' for the town.
Fuengirola sex scam strikes again
By David Eade
Five people have been arrested in Fuengirola for their part in an alleged fraud involving non-existent jobs for gigolos. This is not the first time this scam has been carried out on the coast and several years ago the offices of a similar organisation in Fuengirola were raided by police and those involved were arrested.
On this occasion officers of the violent and special crime squad of the National Police based in Fuengirola arrested four men and a woman. They all originate from South America and stand accused of taking money from men who answered classified advertisements. These ads sought companions for wealthy women with the men being asked to pay between 300 and 600 euros to register with the fake agency.
When the would-be gigolos were given their first appointment they were asked to make a second payment that was said to be a security deposit. Needless to say just before this meeting took place the men would receive a call from the agency cancelling the date giving an excuse such as the woman had to go abroad. Of course, the appointments never materialised.
The gang are believed to have earned large amounts of money from this scam as it has operated over a number of months.
Almeria hotel to be demolished
Regional government to take action against complex
By DAVE JAMIESON
ECOLOGISTS AND LOCAL ACTION GROUPS HAVE WELCOMED THE REGIONAL GOVERNMENT'S DECISION TO DEMOLISH A 22-STOREY HALF-FINISHED HOTEL IN ALMERÍA.
The complex, which was being built at the gateway to the Cabo de Gata natural park, has been adopted by protestors as a symbol of all that has gone wrong on the saturated Spanish coasts.
The announcement finally came last Wednesday, confirming that the Junta de Andalucía is to compulsorily purchase the hotel at El Algarrobicos for 2.3 million euros – and then blow it up. The move is being seen as a massive U-turn for the Junta following pressure from the public and the stated desire of the government in Madrid to curb excessive urbanisation in coastal areas.
The story began in 1994 when the beach was classified as "urban" which meant developers could apply for permission to construct the hotel. Their plans, which included a golf course and 1,500 apartments, were approved by the local Town Council of Carboneras.
Construction started … and so did the protests, and as they grew, Greenpeace environmentalists and the daily newspaper El Mundo joined a local campaign group, Save Mojacar, in demanding that the project be halted. But while the Environment Ministry ordered the builders to knock down part of the hotel which was deemed to be too close to the beach, it said it could not overturn planning licences.
Then it was discovered that the hotel group, Azata del Sol, had failed to comply with an obscure building regulation in 1999 by omitting to advise the regional authority of its plans when it bought the beachside spot. Andalucía's president Manuel Chaves explained last week that this gave the region the right to buy back the hotel and to demolish it, saying, "It is going to disappear from the beach." He said the beach would be returned to its natural state, as it was before construction began.
Maria Jose Contreras of Greenpeace described the news as, "not just a victory for Greenpeace but for all those who believe that the coast should not be destroyed. It should stop builders from thinking, as they do, that they can operate with complete impunity." On Friday, El Mundo wrote, "The destruction of the hotel and rehabilitation of the beach will mark a turning point in the way builders and planners work on the Mediterranean coastline."
COMPANY CLAIMS COMPENSATION
But the construction company, whose efforts are set to end in a pile of rubble instead of a 400-bedroom luxury complex, intend to take the matter further. Azata del Sol's general co-ordinator, Antonio Baena Perez, said they would claim compensation of 200 million euros for the hotel in respect of lost earning potential.
Free melanoma screenings
BY SUZAN DAVENPORT
DERMATOLOGISTS ALL OVER SPAIN WILL SET ASIDE TIME ON JUNE 12 TO SEE PATIENTS FOR FREE AS PART OF A SERIES OF WORLD MELANOMA DAY EVENTS.
Jerónimo Escudero, president of the Andalucian branch of the Spanish Dermatologists' Academy (AED), explained that the object of the campaign is to raise public awareness about the dangers of unprotected exposure to the sun, emphasising the importance of earlier detection of this most deadly form of skin cancer as "the only efficient way of getting the maximum possibility of survival".
Escudero also indicated that 15 per cent of people over 50 years old have some kind of skin problem "due to excesses earlier on in their lives".
Skin cancer, and melanoma in particular, has been on the rise worldwide over the last 25 years and teenagers are particularly encouraged to attend free screenings as younger skin is more delicate and vulnerable to damage. There are over 70,000 new cases of skin cancer diagnosed each year in the UK and experts predict 60,000 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma in 2006. Many cases are not reported so the real number is probably much higher. According to a report from the Spanish National Statistics Institute (INE), deaths from melanoma and malignant skin cancer in this country have quadrupled since 1980.
To avoid problems, experts recommend using high-factor protection cream, avoiding the sun at the hottest times of the day and carrying out regular medical check-ups.
Those interested in being screened should make an appointment by calling the Spanish Dermatologists' Academy (AED) on 902 194 510 before May 26. There will be five clinics taking part in the province of Málaga; three in the capital, one in Antequera and another in Benalmadena.
Mayor hits 'first shot' at Benalmádena Golf
By Oliver McIntyre
Benalmádena Mayor Enrique Bolín stepped up to the tee last Friday to hit the ceremonial 'first shot' at Benalmádena's new municipal golf course and school.
The course has actually been open to the public since last summer, but last week's ceremony marked the official inauguration of the facility, a nine-hole pitch-and-putt course with a double-decker driving range. The first such municipal course and golf school in the province, according to Town Hall officials, Benalmádena Golf already counts some 460 students.
"Thanks to the 20 per cent discount offered to members of the municipal Sports Department (Patronato de Deportes), the prices are very affordable," said Mayor Bolín. Standard prices for twice-a-week group classes range from 30 euros a month for children to 64 euros a month for adults. The price for seniors (over 65) is 48 euros a month. Green fees are 13 euros on weekdays and 16 euros on weekends and holidays.
The course was built on 10 hectares of municipal land tucked into the hillside between Benalmádena Pueblo and Arroyo de la Miel. The Town Hall provided the land and developer Grupo Suite put up the 3.5 million-euro construction cost in exchange for the right to operate the course.
Among its other features, the course has a large rain-water collection pond and pump system, allowing it to be irrigated with rain water during many months of the year, according to Mayor Bolín. It also has lights on the driving range so that golfers can practice into the night. Opening hours are 8.30 to 22.00 in winter and 8.30 to 23.00 in summer.
Mayor Bolín expressed great satisfaction at the early success of the new facility based on the number of students who have already signed up and the 200 calls a day received by the Sports Department from people inquiring about the course. "This project is already being copied by other nearby towns," he boasted at the inauguration.
Massive fraud suspected in national pyramid scam
Afinsa and Fórum Filatélico accused of embezzling investors' funds
BY DAVE JAMIESON
FRAUD, MONEY LAUNDERING, TAX EVASION AND EMBEZZLEMENT ARE NOT USUALLY ALLEGATIONS LEVELLED AT THE GENTEEL WORLD OF STAMP COLLECTING, BUT LAST WEEK'S EVENTS IN SPAIN HAVE BROUGHT THEM TOGETHER IN WHAT MAY PROVE TO BE THE BIGGEST FRAUD IN THE COUNTRY'S HISTORY.
An estimated 14,000 small investors in the province of Málaga are thought to be amongst more than 350,000 nationwide who could lose their savings after police raided the offices of two privately owned companies, Afinsa and Fórum Filatélico, sealing the vaults and arresting nine people, including members of senior management. Afinsa, the world's biggest stamp dealer and third largest after Sotheby's and Christie's in the collectables sector, is accused of embezzling 1.75 billion euros from over 140,000 investors in a huge pyramid scheme built on worthless stamps, while Fórum Filatélico is accused of running a similar scheme affecting more than 200,000 investors.
Both companies issued statements denying the charges, while the Ministry of Finance and the Bank of Spain confirmed that unregulated investments in stamps were not covered by any insurance scheme backed by the Government. Following last week's events, Madrid has promised a new law governing collective investments.
Angry crowds gathered outside the companies' offices in Madrid, Valladolid, Barcelona, Vigo, Sevilla and elsewhere. In Málaga, some of those affected gathered to form an action group demanding answers and fighting for the return of their money.
10 MILLION EUROS FOUND IN HOME
Afinsa has also been accused of laundering cash, as has its main supplier until 2003, Francisco Guijarro, who is now a director of the company.
Police said that 10 million euros in 500-euro notes were found hidden behind a freshly plastered false wall at Sr Guijarro's home in Madrid, where paintings by Picasso and Miró were also confiscated. Investigators say millions of euros had been transferred to tax havens since 2001 and that thousands of stamps worth 50 million euros had been destroyed to avoid tax.
While the taxman is claiming debts of 1.8 billion euros which take precedence over private claims, PM Zapatero promised to protect the "rights, interests and expectations" of small investors.
For its part, Afinsa took a full-page advertisement in national newspapers promising to meet all commitments while Fórum Filatélico said it had an insurance policy which would cover 85 per cent of all payouts.
CONSUMER RIGHTS WEBSITE
The Federation of Consumers (FACUA) opened an Internet site with more information for investors at facua.org/filatelia and received more than 3,000 enquiries in 24 hours of which 70 per cent came from Fórum clients. FACUA can be contacted by email, [email protected], or by telephone, 902 110 902.
Global warming could affect beachfront property
By Oliver McIntyre
Rising sea levels due to global warming could be a sinking prospect for owners of beachfront property. Spain's shoreline is expected to creep inland by between 20 and 70 metres by the year 2050, according to Arturo Gonzalo Aizpiri, the Environment Ministry's secretary general for Pollution Prevention and Climatic Change.
Sr Aizpiri's comments came at a seminar on climate change held in the northern Spanish city of San Sebastián, whose spectacular crescent-shaped La Concha is one of Spain's most famous city-front beaches.
Experts at the seminar, including Cantabria University Professor Raúl Medina Santamaría, explained that the sea level is currently rising at rate of four millimetres a year. By mid-century, the increased water levels, along with 20 to 50 per cent larger waves, will gobble up swaths of beach and seafront land, taking the sea 20 to 70 metres inland from the current shoreline, they said.
The rising tide would mean the disappearance of such coastal features as the Ebro River delta, the Doñana wetlands or La Manga on Murcia's Costa Cálida, according to the experts. It would see the conversion of some land that is currently choice beachfront property into worthless seabed.
There was general consensus at the seminar that climate change cannot be halted, but, in the words of Sr Aizpiri, "we can buy some time, reducing the pace of global warming." He highlighted the importance of pinpointing the exact impact of different industrial and commercial activities and finding ways to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.
Meanwhile, coastal towns should be taking into account the reality of rising shorelines in their town planning practices, said Professor Medina. Among other things, he said, they should be taking measures such as providing economic incentives for the sale of at-risk shorefront land so that it can be "returned to the sea."
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