Costa del Sol News - 1st May 2008

News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol

News Archive

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

Week 1st May - 7th May 2008


Nerja and Torremolinos celebrated Residents' Days last weekend with visitors in both towns enjoying the live entertainment and international gastronomy in glorious spring sunshine. In the picture Nerja councillor for residents, Emma Hall, draws the winning name for the Costa del Sol News's digital camera prize while CDSN staff Marie Thomson and John Peatey look on. Congratulations to Maggie Clarke and many thanks to everyone who took part.


From May 1 drivingwithout a proper licence could land you behind bars

By Dave Jamieson

Drivers who take to the roads without the appropriate licence now face immediate detention and up to six months in jail. New legislation, in force from May 1, substantially increases the penalties which courts can impose for the offence.

Tráfico estimates there are around a thousand unlicensed drivers in the province of Málaga, and until now the maximum punishment for those caught has been a fine and possibly the immobilisation of their vehicle. This has now changed, with Guardia Civil and local police officers instructed to detain anyone who cannot produce the correct document. Sanctions now include imprisonment for three to six months, or a fine and 30 to 90 days of community service.

Tráfico has already written to those who have been caught driving without a licence during the past year, warning of the pending change in the legislation. This was part of a larger package of amendments which came into force at the end of last year - making criminal offences of serious traffic infractions such as excessive alcohol levels, flagrant speeding and dangerous recklessness - but the piece related to driving without a licence was temporarily held back to give drivers a chance to correct their situation. That period has now ended and police patrols are expected to be out in strength over this holiday weekend.

No arrests for EU licence holders

The order to detain drivers immediately also applies to those who do not possess the appropriate licence for the vehicle being driven - for example, a car driver with a licence which only permits the driving of motorcycles. However, it does not apply to those found to be driving on a licence after losing all their penalty points or to those who cannot produce their licences on demand. Neither does it apply to those driving on a licence issued by another EU country which has expired or which is not backed up by a medical certificate. Similarly, the detention order will not be served on drivers holding non-EU licences, provided that they are still within six months of having arrived in Spain.

Police snare exotic-bird theft gang

A hyacinth macaw, valued at 36,000 euros was recovered in the operation

By Oliver McIntyre

THE GUARDIA Civil have arrested eight people and recovered a 36,000-euro parrot in the break-up of an exotic-bird theft gang that stole animals from the closed-down Senda El Retiro zoological park in Churriana.

The investigation was launched in October 2007 after the Guardia Civil received reports from Senda saying the park had been suffering bird thefts dating back to 2006, and had lost over a dozen parrots and other species, including a toucan, some of them protected species.

Investigators combed the internet, local bird outlets and veterinary clinics in an effort to identify the movement of the stolen birds and their sale on the black market. The investigation extended to Pizarra and Alhaurín de la Torre as well as the Málaga districts of Churriana and Los Asperones.

Officials say the eight-member gang was split into two cells of four members each, the first in charge of carrying out the robberies and the second responsible for selling the birds on the black market for prices ranging from 800 to 1,000 euros.

One bird, a hyacinth macaw that officials say is valued at 36,000 euros, was recovered in the operation.

The park closed last year

Senda closed its doors to the public last June, just a year and a half after it opened as a bird and animal park following an extensive remodel of the historic El Retiro botanical gardens. However, the site continues to house a large collection of birds and other animals.

Málaga court cannot handle the major corruption ca

Massive size of proceedings would overload new Ciudad de Justicia

By David Eade

The investigations surrounding the Malaya, Ballena Blanca and Hidalgo corruption and money laundering cases are now almost complete. Up till now the court proceedings have been held in the local courts in Marbella, and now that it is time for the cases to go to trial they should pass to the Málaga provincial court, in the city's new Ciudad de la Justicia.

However, the court says the brand new facility doesn't have the space to handle these massive hearings. The provincial court president, Francisco Javier Arroyo Fiestas, is seeking the creation of a new penal court section to handle the workload.

Sr Arroyo Fiestas says he expects the Malaya case to come to court at the end of this year and he anticipates it could take a further year for all the evidence to be heard. That would still leave the Ballena Blanca and Hidalgo cases, along with the provincial court's normal workload.

Across all the cases there could be around 150 accused to be tried. In addition, there would be their defence lawyers, prosecutors and accredited journalists to cover the proceedings. Sr Arroyo Fiestas believes the cases may have to be heard outside of the court complex in a special pavilion to handle the number of people involved and to ensure security.

Roca back to jail

Meanwhile, the alleged mastermind behind the Malaya corruption scam at Marbella town hall, Juan Antonio Roca, is back in jail. The former head of town planning in Marbella was recently released on one million euros bail by the judge in the Malaya case, causing widespread outrage in Marbella; a sensation not lessened by Roca's insistence that he should go back to work at the town planning department and be paid 9,000 euros a month.

Last Wednesday lawyers acting for Marbella town hall won a Spanish High Court decision to have Roca put back inside. This had nothing to do with his role in the Malaya case but involved his involvement in a separate investigation known as 'Saqueo'.

In this case Roca faces 10 years in prison for the misappropriation of 26.7 million euros of town hall funds. The judge, Pablo Ruz, ordered him back to jail, accepting the town hall and prosecutor's arguments that there was a real risk that Roca would flee and that he had large sums of money hidden in off-shore accounts.

The court set a bail of three million euros. As Roca's family and friends struggled to raise the one million euros demanded for his release in the Malaya case, it is unlikely they will be able to come up with this massive amount. Roca's lawyer is to appeal against the bail level, saying it is disproportionate.

Hotel ordered to pay guests 57,000 euros for theft

By Oliver McIntyre

The Hotel Torrequebrada in Benalmádena has been ordered to pay 57,000 euros to a couple who had that amount in cash, jewellery and casino chips stolen from their in-room safe at the hotel.

The Supreme Court last week upheld the ruling of the Málaga provincial court, which had ordered that the hotel was responsible for the entire amount stolen, not just the 3,005 euros the hotel claimed was its stated maximum liability for thefts.

The case dates back to February 13, 1997, when the theft occurred and the couple subsequently filed a claim against the hotel. The local Torremolinos court that originally heard the case found in favour of the hotel, saying it only had to pay the 3,005-euro maximum liability. But the couple then appealed to the provincial court, which reversed the lower court ruling, saying the hotel had not met its legal obligation to inform clients in advance of the limited liability for thefts from the in-room safes. The hotel appealed this ruling to the Supreme Court, which rejected the appeal and upheld the provincial court ruling, ordering the hotel to pay the full amount.

Repsol concludes gas study off Mijas coast

NEWS Staff Reporter

Repsol YPF last week concluded a photographic study of a 16-square-kilometre swath of seafloor off the coast of Mijas, where the company is analysing the possibility of prospecting for natural gas.
The 10-day photographic study was the culmination of a gas search along the entire coastline of Málaga province, launched by the company four years ago under licences issued by the Spanish government. The company has already dismissed the possibility of finding oil under the seafloor and is now focussing only on natural gas and has honed the search to the zone located some 10 kilometres off the Mijas coast, between Calahonda and Punta de Calaburras.

Repsol will now perform a detailed analysis of the photographic data before deciding if, and exactly where, to drill for gas. It has two years to study the viability of the site and make a decision. The company says that once actual drilling begins, typically just one in 10 wells successfully hits gas.

Three coach accident victims remain in hospital

Finnish government to stay out of legal suits over the deadly crash

By Oliver McIntyre

Three people remain hospitalised following the horrific April 19 coach crash that killed nine Finnish tourists and injured 38 people (CDSN last week). The only Finnish victim to remain in hospital from the accident is a 50-year-old woman who at press time had been upgraded from 'critical' to 'very serious' condition at Málaga's Carlos Haya. The other two victims still in hospital, both Spanish, are the driver of the tourists' bus and the 27-year-old driver of the 4x4 that hit the coach.

The judge investigating the accident will not hear formal testimony from the 4x4 driver, who was tested at twice the legal limit for alcohol, until he has been released from hospital.

Last week the Finnish consul in Málaga, Santiago Souvirón, told the EFE news agency that the Finnish government does not plan to be involved in any legal suits over the accident, which occurred on the evening of Saturday, April 19 on the A7 motorway between Benlamádena and Torremolinos. The victims and affected family members are free to take any individual legal action they see fit, he said, noting that Spanish authorities had been very cooperative and that the traffic safety prosecutor's office is providing the necessary documentation for any victims who want to be involved in criminal proceedings.

Crash depletesblood supply

In a knock-on effect from the accident, the Málaga blood bank reported earlier this week that its reserves were dangerously low due to the 300 units it provided for treatment of the crash victims. At press time the blood bank's on-hand supply was only sufficient for a 24-hour period.

Trials start for Málaga to Madrid by train in two

Many of the AVE trains are already arriving at their destination up to 15 minutes early

By Dave Jamieson

WHILE those using the new high-speed rail link between Málaga and Madrid have already been impressed with the speed of travel, plans are underway to increase it even more. Trials have started which will reduce the journey time between the two cities by a further 30 minutes.

Although the official time for the non-stop service to the capital is given as two and a half hours, many of the AVE trains already arrive at their destination up to 15 minutes early. However, once technical upgrades are completed, drivers will be allowed to exceed the present limit of 300 kilometres per hour, travelling at up to 350 kph in the most modern rolling stock.

The Ministry of Development last week announced that the line between Málaga and Córdoba is being upgraded to level two of the European Rail Traffic Management System, ERMTS, which is the common system for managing railways throughout the EU. This will allow automatic tracking of every train and help to authorise and control its progress by way of signalling. Ballast beneath the tracks is also being checked to ensure it is adequate to cope with higher speeds, while Renfe is studying train movements at Madrid Atocha station where a lack of platforms causes saturation and delays.
The existing AVE locomotives and carriages do not require upgrading as they are already designed for travel at 320 kph in the case of the S-102 model, or 350 kph for the S-103. The start date for two hour travel to Madrid will be announced once the trials have been successfully completed.

Meanwhile, a campaign to bring more visitors to Málaga by AVE has been launched by the city. The tourism department at the town hall has been staging promotions at commercial centres in Sevilla, and this month moves on to Córdoba, Puerto Llano and Toledo.

New Alhaurín health centre out to tender

The project is expected to be up and functioning in two year's time

By Oliver McIntyre

ALHAURÍN el Grande's mayor, Juan Martín, last week announced that the 4.9 million-euro construction contract for the town's new health centre has been put out to tender, with bids due by May 20. Once the contract has been awarded, the project has a construction timeline of 18 months.

"In two years, Alhaurín el Grande will have a health centre in accordance with its needs, a modern facility located in a strategic area of the town, which will allow a substantial improvement to the current service," said the mayor. The centre will have 36 surgeries, a larger medical staff than the current health centre, and new services such as dentistry, rehabilitation, and radiology, as well as an improved A&E department, he said.

The building, to be located on the southern bypass road near the municipal day nursery, will consist of four storeys in a terraced configuration to take advantage of the slope of the site. The two upper floors will house the health centre, with the entrance on the bypass road, while the two lower floors will contain a 120-space garage with an entrance on Calle Alemán.

Three million-euro budget

The three million-euro budget for the health-centre portion of the building is to be split evenly between the Andalucía health service (SAS) and the town hall, while the 1.9 million euros for the garage will be paid by the town hall alone. The town hall provided the 5,000-square-metre municipal property for the project and SAS is to outfit and operate the health centre once it is built.

The building will only occupy half of the site, leaving some 2,500 square metres free for additional use, including possibly a future expansion of the health centre, said the mayor.

Traders threaten legal action over Nerja market mo

Town hall remains upbeat on new location

By Dave Jamieson

The row between Nerja town hall and traders at the town's weekly market is hotting up. A meeting of those who are bitterly opposed to the plan to move the regular Tuesday event to a site well away from the town centre is planned for next week.

The decision to move the market was taken by councillors following complaints from residents who live in the streets where it is presently held. The inconvenience caused to them each week, as well as the lack of access for the emergency services, persuaded the town council to act. A major project was launched to prepare a new site in the Almijara area, which is now almost ready for use. However, the location is well out of the centre, in the north-east of the town, and despite promises of additional local bus services to bring shoppers to the stalls, market traders are convinced their businesses will be decimated by the move.

A recent protest march was followed last Wednesday by a meeting between the mayor, José Alberto Armijo, and representatives of the traders, at which each side put forward their arguments. The town hall said the new site is "suitable," that the planned move was "irreversible," and that it would take place "very soon." The traders complained that the site was too far from the town centre, was too small and did not meet safety regulations.

Decision next week

Now the traders may take further action. The president of the Málaga Association of Market Traders, Juan Rocas, said last week that a final decision on what to do would be taken at a meeting arranged for next Wednesday, May 7. One option for the traders is to file a legal complaint against Nerja town hall and Sr Rocas said that if that is the decision of the meeting, "we have contracted lawyers to do it."
The town hall, however, remains upbeat on the subject. The councillor responsible, José Miguel Jimena, said that there is a waiting list of traders who want to operate at Nerja's market and any vacancies created by existing traders who do not want to go to the Alimijara site will quickly be filled. He added that the new location meets all safety regulations and confirmed the provision of a new local bus service to it.

Israel and Palestine cometogether at international

Thirty countries and Spanish regions are to take part in this year's event

By David Eade

THE MAYOR of Fuengirola, Esperanza Oña, is justifiably cock-a-hoop over the fact that both Israel and Palestine will be represented at the international fair that starts today, May 1 and runs through to Sunday.

Although Palestine has participated in the past this is the first year that Israel will also have a "caseta" or marquee at the event. Sra Oña explained that having both communities at the fair had been an objective for some time but it had never been possible before largely on "security grounds."

The 'XIV Feria Internacional de Los Pueblos' is held at the Fuengirola fairground and over 70,000 people are expected to flock to the event. It is open every day from 13.00 to 04.00. Each country has a "caseta" and inside visitors will be able to enjoy the food and drink, culture, traditions and entertainment of that nation.

Other nations attending for the first time this year will be Bulgaria, Chile, Japan, Iran, Russia and the Canary Islands. Britain will be represented by a unified UK 'caseta' plus another for Ireland with other nations being as diverse as Germany and Venezuela plus Egypt and India. Indeed there will be over 30 different countries or Spanish regions with around 1,400 people taking part.

Recent rains saveflamingo breeding season

The water level at the Fuente de Piedra lagoon is at bare minimum for successful hatching

By Oliver McIntyre

IT BECAME apparent last week that the recent spring rains may have saved the breeding season at the Fuente de Piedra lagoon, as hundreds of flamingos flocked to the site and began laying eggs. In just two days, the flamingo population at the lagoon jumped from 260 to some 1,300 birds.

The new rainfall brought the lagoon's water level to 28 centimetres, considered the bare minimum for successful hatching. Officials are hoping for further rains this month to bring the water level to 30 inches, which would „fully guarantee a successful reproduction cycle and growth of the chicks," said Ignacio Trillo, head of the Junta de Andalucía's Environment Department.

However, at this advanced stage in the season, any additional rain is likely to be too late to greatly affect the overall number of flamingos attracted to the lagoon this year, meaning this will be another in a string of relatively poor reproduction years.

Just three years ago, in 2005, the lagoon's water level was so low - just 20 centimetres in late April - that the flamingos practically failed to show up at all, and the breeding season was a complete bust. In 2006 and 2007, the water level was just at or slightly above 30 centimetres, and the breeding seasons were successful but not spectacular.

Last good year was 2004

The last time Fuente de Piedra had a truly standout year was in 2004, when higher than average rainfall resulted in a banner year for waterfowl. That year the lagoon reached depths of over 66 centimetres and more than 32,900 flamingos were counted at the site, some 13,000 more than the previous year.Officials say that in the last 20 years around 130,000 flamingo chicks have been hatched at the lagoon.

Health warning lifted oncontaminated sunflower oil

Oil imported from Ukraine had trace quantities of hydrocarbons

By Dave Jamieson

A warning about contaminated sunflower oil issued by the Ministry of Health last Friday has been lifted while testing continues. The Food Safety and Nutrition Agency said that a batch of the product imported from the Ukraine had been found to contain some hydrocarbons.

The agency's head, Jose Ignacio Arranz, said that there was little danger to consumers. The volume of toxins discovered was very low, he explained, so the oil would only be harmful if consumed every day and over a long period. Many supermarkets took sunflower oil off the shelves over the weekend after the warning, which the government described as a precautionary measure. However, on Sunday night the health minister, Bernat Soria, said that the order to stop the use of sunflower oil had been lifted and that all brands of the oil on sale from Monday morning had not come from the Ukraine and were safe to use.

The scare began in France, where sunflower oil was found to contain a hydrocarbon from mineral oil. The Spanish Health Ministry, which was alerted to the situation by its French counterpart, said that the oil was known to have been delivered to Italy and the Netherlands, as well as France and Spain, but that many other European countries could also have bottles of the contaminated product. On Saturday, France, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK confirmed to Brussels that traces of hydrocarbons had also been found in oil they had imported. It was reported that that the contamination had probably occurred accidentally when the cooking oil passed through a ship's storage tank previously used to store mineral oil.

The affected oil is understood to have arrived in Spain during February, some of it through Málaga's port, and the ministry has advised consumers to retain - but to not use - any which they may have at home until a definitive list of suspect brands is issued. However, this may take another week or more to produce; by Monday, only a quarter of the 800 brands on sale had been tested.

Not the first time

Spanish cooks use 310 million kilograms of sunflower oil every year, compared with 475 million kilograms of olive oil. In 1981, contaminated rapeseed oil was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people. Two decades later, victims and their families were still claiming compensation and holding protest demonstrations.

Spain's economic growth projections slashed

NEWS Staff Reporter

Both Spanish officials and the European Commission have dramatically cut their economic growth projections for Spain during 2008 and 2009. On Friday Spain's minister for the economy, Pedro Solbes, slashed his official GDP growth projection for 2008 to 2.3 per cent, down from the previous projection of 3.1 per cent. He expects 2009 to continue at the same pace, with 2.3 per cent growth. Despite the low estimates - which if correct would represent the slowest growth since the recession of 1993 - Sr Solbes projects that unemployment will reach a maximum of 10 per cent.

The EC was even stingier in its revised projections for Spain's economy. It predicts 2.2 per cent GDP growth in 2008 - down from its previous projection of 2.7 per cent - and just 1.8 per cent growth in 2009. Despite the dire figures, Spain's projected growth remains above that of the eurozone (estimated at 1.7 per cent in 2008 and 1.5 per cent in 2009), and above or on par with projections for the entire EU (2.0 per cent in 2008 and 1.8 per cent in 2009).

Both Minister Solbes and the EC expect Spain's inflation to slow down, though Sr Solbes' projections - a rate of less than three per cent by the end of this year - are more optimistic than Brussels' prediction of 3.8 per cent this year and 2.6 per cent in 2009.

The minister and EC officials agree that Spain's budget surplus will continue this year, though at a reduced level, and will disappear in 2009, though the budget will remain balanced.

Puerto Real's mayor could face jail for royal insu

José Antonio Barroso is said to have called the monarch 'son of a traitor'

By David Eade

The Izquierda Unida mayor of Puerto Real, José Antonio Barroso, could face jail over insults he made about the Spanish king, Juan Carlos I. The remarks were made on April 17 at a ceremony in Los Barrios to mark the 77th anniversary of the founding of the Spanish Second Republic.

In a no-holds barred speech Barroso is said to have called the monarch ''corrupt'' and the ''son of a traitor''. He added that the king was the son of a rake, was no less despicable than his father and dismissed the entire royal family as ''corrupt, anachronistic and unnecessary.''

The Cádiz prosecutor now has to decide whether court action should be taken against Barroso who has been mayor of Puerto Real for 25 years. For his part the IU politician is unrepentant, saying that if the authorities want to throw him in jail for expressing his views then so be it.

If found guilty of insulting the crown Barroso could face two years in jail and would certainly be debarred from his role as mayor. His outspoken remarks follow on from the burning of images of the King and Queen Sofía last September by Catalan separatists.It is a difficult problem for the legal authorities. To prosecute Barroso would give major publicity to his minority view. Since the death of Franco the Royal family has enjoyed major popularity and any criticism has been frowned upon. Taking the mayor to court for expressing his beliefs could do more harm to King Juan Carlos than to the renegade mayor.

Needless to say the row has already spilled over into the political arena. The Partido Popular in Puerto Real has presented a motion to the local council in support of the monarch. The party's municipal spokesperson, José Antonio Aldayturriaga, says the motion publically acknowledges the role of King Juan Carlos in the restoration of democracy in Spain and his support for its democratic institutions.