Costa del Sol News - 29th May 2008

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Week 29th May - 4th June 2008


Over 100,000 people flocked to Regent Street to watch the new Guinness World Record for the Largest Sevillanas Dance on Sunday. The world record attempt was successful with 456 dancers dancing sevillanas, to live bands from Andalucía, and was verified by Guinness World Record adjudicator Nadine Causey. The A taste of Spain 2008 festival will last until Sunday 8 June with themed events taking place in Regent Street and a programme of live performances planned for Heddon Street and Swallow Street. Secretary of State of Tourism for Spain, Joan Mesquida enjoyed the festival, along with director of the Spanish Tourism Office, Ignacio Vasallo, who accepted the certificate awarded by Guinness World Records.


Tax rebate to begin appearing in June paycheques

By Oliver McIntyre

Workers all across Spain can expect their paycheque to increase by 200 euros next month as the government's 400-euro tax rebate, aimed at stimulating the sagging economy, begins rolling out.

In their net pay for June workers and pensioners will receive 200 euros more than normal as the tax office reduces its income tax withholding by that amount. The second half of this year's 400-euro rebate will be distributed over the paycheques for July to December (slightly more than 33 euros a month). In subsequent years the rebate will be distributed evenly across the paycheques for all 12 months.

For the self-employed, the rebate will come by way of a reduction in their quarterly tax-instalment payments, which will be reduced by 200 euros in July and 100 euros in October and January.

The tax rebate, which is the fulfilment of a campaign promise made by the prime minister, Jose Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, was formally approved by the cabinet last Friday.

The measure, which is expected to benefit some 16.4 million taxpayers and provide an injection of six billion euros into the Spanish economy, will "have a great impact on families and on the economy," said the deputy prime minister, María Teresa Fernández de la Vega. In aggregate, the rebate represents 0.9 per cent of annual household income, she said.

Not for everyone

While the tax rebate applies to most workers, there are some exceptions. Those who do not earn enough to pay any income tax (IRPF) will not receive the rebate. And those who whose annual tax withholdings are less than 400 euros will receive a rebate of the amount of their annual withholding; only those who have withholdings of 400 euros or more will receive the entire 400-euro rebate.

Both Deputy Prime Minister Fernández de la Vega and the minister of the economy, Pedro Solbes, have stated that the government has sufficient funding for the tax rebate and other planned economic-stimulus measures, but that little is now left over for further manoeuvring. Sr Solbes said last week he expects the economy to hit its low point by summer 2009 and then begin to rebound.

Trial set for woman who killed husband after hit m

Wife claimed murder was last-ditch defence against years of abuse

By Oliver McIntyre

A MIJAS woman accused of killing her abusive husband after an amateur hit man she had hired was unable to pull the trigger is set to go on trial June 16, five years to the day after the alleged murder took place.The failed hit man and another accomplice will also be on trial.According to the summary of the investigating magistrate, the woman decided to have her husband killed because his abuse had become unbearable and she saw his murder as a "last-ditch defence of her own life and that of the couple's 11-year-old daughter."The summary goes on to describe how, through a work contact, the woman hired a man to kill her husband for 15,000 euros.While the husband was taking his afternoon nap, she allegedly mixed four tranquilisers into the medicine he always took upon waking up, and then sent a mobile-phone message to the hit man telling him what time to come over.He showed up at around 6pm, but once in the sleeping man's bedroom could not bring himself to pull the trigger, so the woman grabbed the gun and shot her husband fatally in the head, according to the case summary.Both the woman's work contact and the would-be hit man he put her in contact with face charges as accomplices in the murder, as well as for illegal possession of a firearm.

Show of regret

The magistrate says that when the woman was interviewed by police as the wife of the victim, she confessed her participation as well as that of the two men. This show of regret, as well the history of abuse that allegedly drove the woman to kill her husband, are to be taken into account as extenuating circumstances. But the fact that the alleged killer and the victim were immediate relatives will be considered an aggravating factor.

Paedophile paediatrician sent to jail

Community shocked by arrest of the popular Arroyo de la Miel doctor

By Oliver McIntyre

The Benalmádena paediatrician arrested last week for possession of child pornography has been remanded to jail without bail after making his initial statements before a judge.The arrest of Dr Rafael D.P.M, 48, shocked parents whose children had been treated by him during his nearly 20 years as a popular paediatrician at the Arroyo de la Miel health centre.At one point a few years ago a number of parents collected signatures on a petition to keep the doctor stationed at the Arroyo health centre when it appeared he might be transferred elsewhere.The doctor was arrested last Wednesday as part of Operation Tambor, coordinated by the Guardia Civil in Ciudad Real, which also resulted in the arrest of a 57-year-old man in Salamanca and a 33-year-old Almería man being indicted as suspect.It is understood investigators found thousands of child-pornography images and videos on the paediatrician's home computer, including some allegedly containing violent or degrading content. The images were apparently downloaded from the internet.The Guardia Civil investigation was sparked by an anonymous phone tip from someone who had downloaded a guitar lesson from the internet and found that the file also contained child-porn material.Under Spanish law the mere possession of pornographic materials involving minors is punishable by three months to a year in jail. The production, sale, distribution or exhibition of such material brings sentences of one to four years, which can be bumped to four to eight years if the material involves children under 13, physical or sexual violence, or particularly degrading or humiliating elements.

More arrests

Meanwhile, in a series of nationwide police operations against child pornography unrelated to Operation Tambor, the National Police have arrested eight people over the last few weeks in Málaga, Torremolinos, Cártama and Alhaurín de la Torre. It has been reported that among the arrested is a primary school teacher.

Eightfold increase in home repossessions

Foreign residents head mortgage default league

By David Eade

To find the crisis in the housing market look no further than Marbella's civil court. Officials report that the number of applications received for repossession by mortgage lenders has increased eightfold over the last year. It is understood that the majority of these cases involve Britons and other foreign residents.The foreigners affected are largely not full-time residents of Marbella but those who have bought a second home there or invested in a property hoping to make a profit by selling it on. The financial crisis in the UK and the collapse of the property market in Spain has resulted in these people not being able to make their mortgage payments or pay their community fees.For a financial institution to seek a repossession order it is only necessary for the property owner to default on three or four payments. The case then passes to the courts and if the repossession is agreed, the property is put up for auction.Experts say the problems are more with the financial sector than the housing market. Lenders do not wish to be exposed with bad debts so are moving swiftly against defaulters in an effort to cut their losses. However, the increase in cases could eventually result in the courts being overloaded with a deluge of repossession requests.And there is no light at the end of this financial-crisis tunnel. Predictions are that the situation will worsen in the second half of the year.However, it is not all bad news. The number of properties going to auction as forced sales means they are available at cheap prices, and there are many buyers waiting in the wings to snap up these bargains.

Malaya knock-on

Apart from the mortgage crisis, the overworked Marbella civil court is also dealing with the backlash from the Malaya and other corruption cases. Many property owners have not received the deeds or permissions for first occupancy as the legality of the homes is in doubt, and these cases are now also being brought to the courts.

Council approves plan to audit Bolín years

The motion was passed after a report revealed "irregular payments" of 25 million euros

By Oliver McIntyre

At an extraordinary session last Friday the Benalmádena town council voted unanimously to request that the Andalucía Audit Board perform a detailed review of the town hall's financial management from 2003 to 2007, the period coinciding with the final term of ex-mayor Enrique Bolín (GIB-Bolín).In addition, the council approved a motion calling for a viability study on carrying out an internal audit of the entire 12 years of Bolín's tenure as mayor.The extraordinary council session was called expressly for the purpose of taking these actions following a report from an Audit Board review of the town hall's 2005 accounts, which identified some 25 million euros in "irregular payments," according to the mayor, Mayor Carnero (PSOE).The report indicates that 88 per cent of the contracts for construction works and 67 per cent of the service contracts that year were not handled following standard legal procedures.

Meeting was tense

The council meeting was tense, with shouts from the standing-room-only crowd and criss-crossing accusations between councillors. At the centre of much of the tension were opposition councillors Enrique Moya (PP) and Manuel Crespo (GIB), both of whom were GIB-Bolín councillors and members of Enrique Bolín's governing team in 2005, the year of the audit.Sr Moya staunchly defended his past performance as head of the Environment Department, which, according to Mayor Carnero, was one of the departments with the greatest number of irregularities identified in the 2005 audit. The accounts were all balanced and justified, said Sr Moya.Sr Crespo, for his part, said that all of the questioned contract payments were approved via mayoral decree by Enrique Bolín, who was thus solely responsible, "for good or for bad." Further, he stressed that the audit did not identify any money missing from the town hall coffers.

First Andalucían airline will operate from Málaga

New company will offer direct flights to Caribbean

By Dave Jamieson

A new airline based at Málaga airport will be formally launched tomorrow. Andalus Líneas Aéreas will initially have three aircraft, two for short - and medium-distance routes to northern Africa, principally Morocco, and one for long-haul flights between Málaga and the Caribbean. The company plans to augment its fleet in time and to expand into other European and Latin America destinations.The new airline was created by several former executives of Air Madrid, which ceased operations in December 2006 when the International Air Transport Association suspended its licence. They say the new undertaking, which has no connection or ties to Air Madrid, will "satisfy the travel requirements of everyone in Andalucía, allowing them to fly to major tourist destinations practically from their front doors."The owners say this is the first totally Andalucían airline and is expected to have 97 employees when it starts operating. They say the documentation for the company's formation was submitted to Spain's civil aviation authority, part of the Ministry of Development, in February.Further details of the project are expected to be unveiled tomorrow when Andalus Líneas Aéreas formally launches at Euroal 2008, a fair encompassing the tourism, art and culture of Latin America in Europe, being held in Torremolinos. However, the local tourism sector has already welcomed the announcement; the Confederation of Andalucían Business Owners described it as "great news" while the Association of Andalucía Travel Agents said it was "interesting and positive."

Low-cost boom

News of the new company comes as traditional airlines at Málaga are seeing a fall in passenger numbers. Data from the Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Commerce last Thursday show that 7.2 per cent fewer travellers used such airlines in the first four months of the year, while low-cost airlines saw a 7.7 increase. Passengers travelling into all Andalucían airports from abroad in the same period were led by the Britons (53 per cent), who showed an 8.5 per cent increase on last year. Germans (14 per cent) were 6.6 per cent down on 2007.

Row over impact of proposed motorway

First town hall protest called for June 4

By David Eade

VERDEMAR-Ecologistas en Accion have rubbished claims by the Ministry of Public Works that only 30 metres of the Pinar del Rey green zone will be affected by plans to run the A7 dual carriageway through the area. The ecologists' spokesperson, Antonio Munoz, says they believe the damage will be felt over an area of a kilometre.The environmentalists are also casting doubts on the accuracy of ministry's pronouncements. For example it talks of not affecting the Madre Vieja stream when it is the Al Alhaja that runs through the Pinar del Rey. In addition the ministry states that there are 500 hectares in the green zone whereas there are only 350.Antonio Muñoz promised that unless San Roque town hall defends the interests of the people of San Roque and the wider Campo de Gibraltar against the motorway then his organisation would mount a campaign against the elected representatives. He said banners would be flown from balconies and people would demonstrate in the streets against this planning barbarity.A spokesperson for the ecologist group had told the Costa del Sol News that these protests would start in June. Now it has been announced that the first gathering outside the doors of San Roque town hall will take place at 20.30 on Wednesday, June 4. All residents of the Campo de Gibraltar who care for their environment are urged to attend.

Spanish workers in Gibraltar to hold protest

Britons living in Spain but working on Rock could be affected

By David Eade

Spanish workers in Gibraltar have rescheduled their demonstration, at the statue to the Spanish worker in Gibraltar by La Línea's border with the Rock, for the afternoon of June 12. It was due to have been held prior to the Spanish general election but was cancelled after the ETA assassination of a former councillor in the Basque region.The demonstration has been organised by associations representing Spanish workers in Gibraltar and will be backed by major trade unions as well as political parties.Protestors are to demand that the Spanish government changes the law so that Spanish workers in Gibraltar have a pension benefit similar to any other Spaniard working in Spain.Presently Spain pays higher pensions to its nationals here than are received by Spanish workers on the Rock.There is also concern among Spanish workers over Gibraltar's social security system's poor provision for sickness, accident or maternity benefit compared with what is available to workers in Spain. This will not be part of the demonstration but it will be raised before the EU and unions want it to be discussed at the Tripartite Forum between Spain, Britain and Gibraltar.

Britons could also be affected

Although the protest has been called to highlight the problems of Spanish workers it appears that Britons resident in Spain but working on the Rock could also be affected.A British couple, who do not wish to be named, who have lived with their four children in Benalmádena for the last five years recently contacted the Costa del Sol News after the husband, who worked in Gibraltar, suffered a very serious road accident in Spain that left him with a smashed pelvis.His wife said: ''My husband was paying Gibraltar taxes and social security but their social security system only provides benefits for at-work accidents, which is different from in the UK.'' She warned fellow expats: ''It's not the same as in Britain - it's totally different.''To makes matters worse because he had been working on a permanent contract for less than three months the company was not required to pay him sick leave. After the accident the company terminated his contract before the three months was up.CDSN spoke to JJ Uceda who is the official spokesperson of ASCTEG, one of the associations representing Spanish workers in Gibraltar. He stated: ''I do believe that British workers in Gibraltar are facing the same problem as Spanish workers in Gibraltar, concerning accidents, maternity or sickness benefits. After six weeks employment (two full and four half pay) most employers will not pay you a penny, and if you reside in Spain you will get no money due to the fact that you are a worker in Gibraltar. You will have no problem though with the health system as you will have medical assistance. There again if a Gibraltar resident becomes sick, pregnant or has an accident, after those six weeks the resident and their families will get welfare assistance."On the wider issue of pensions Sr Uceda went on to say that although he was not completely familiar with the British pension system he had heard complaints from some Britons over discrimination and poor pensions. ''Gibraltarian retirees get the extra ''Community Care'' bonus that British or Spanish workers living in Spain will not get. Adding this just for the sake of being a resident in Gibraltar is discriminatory to non-residents and therefore some people describe it as illegal.''

Mijas project is good sign for local shops

New tourism signage to promote village businesses

By Oliver McIntyre

Shops, bars and restaurants in Mijas Pueblo are to benefit from a project underway to create new tourism-related signage throughout the town.The 65,000-euro project is part of a commitment made by the mayor, Antonio Sánchez, to promote the 'open-air shopping centre' concept in the pueblo as a way to attract more shoppers and better compete with the ever-growing proliferation of malls and superstores throughout the Costa area.The new signage, aimed at better orienting visitors, will include way-finding signs in the historic centre to offer tourists information about not just local sites but also available commercial activities and services. There will be 15 signs identifying the open-air shopping centre zone, three directional signs and three signs bearing local business directories, plus three new 'welcome signs' on road entrances to the pueblo.

Ready by November

The project, the contract for which has already been awarded, is to be carried out in three phases. The first, which will take until mid-June, involves a study of strategic placement for the signs. Phase two, the drawing up of the detailed design and installation plan, will take until the end of August, followed by the installation phase, which will be completed by November.The project is being funded half by the town hall and half by a grant from the Junta de Andalucía.

Mari Luz's family appeals for life imprisonment

Prime Minister meets with slain girl's father

By David Eade

Juan José Cortés, the father of five-year-old Mari Luz, who was allegedly murdered by convicted paedophile Santiago del Valle, appealed on Monday to Spain's prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, for child killers to receive life sentences.The meeting was held at the Palacio de la Moncloa, where Sr Cortés informed the prime minister that the family's petition for the life imprisonment of paedophile killers had received over 500,000 signatures, the number necessary for the subject to be debated in the Spanish Parliament.Sr Zapatero has been in contact with Mari Luz's family since it was revealed that a series of failures by the judicial system allowed Del Valle to be free, rather than in jail as he should have been, at the time of the child's murder. He has promised the girl's father that there will be a thorough and open investigation and that those responsible will be held accountable.On April 7 the High Judicial Council ordered an investigation into the failure of Sevilla Judge Rafael Tirado to order the imprisonment of Del Valle.The Ministry of Justice on April 16 also ordered disciplinary action to be taken against the judicial secretary of the courts, Juana Gálvez Muñoz, for not carrying out her legal obligations in the Mari Luz case.Mari Luz disappeared from near her home at El Torréjon in Huelva city on January 13. She was found floating in the river near Huelva's petrol port 55 days later.

Paedophile registry

The over half a million people who have so far supported the family's campaign also want a registry established listing convicted paedophiles, and for this to be made available to parents, schools and other organisations working with children. In addition, they want to see a set protocol established to deal with cases of child disappearance.

Fish farm could closebecause of murky water

One report cites reservoir's massive release of water and mud as the cause

By David Eade

FOR SIX MONTHS now the cloudy water in the Guadalquivir River, as it passes through Sanlúcar de Barrameda, has been causing major concern.The Andalucía Water Authority carried out tests and recently announced that the murky water was a natural phenomenon. It also assured the town's administration and local residents that the problem would stop when 50 cubic hectometres of water is taken from the river for irrigation purposes in the near future. In addition it reported that the water was not contaminated despite its appearance.Now those conclusions have been questioned after a report following tests by fish farming company, Piscícola de Trebujena S.A., which has a major fish farm in Sanlúcar. Its research shows that the cloudiness may have been caused by a massive amount of water and mud being released from the reservoir in Alcalá del Río, in Sevilla, after a period of torrential rain. The report says that, between November 21 and 23, water was released from the reservoir at a rate of 484 cubic metres per second instead of at the usual rate of nine cubic metres per second. In addition millions of tons of mud from the reservoir were also released into the river.The fish factory uses water from the Guadalquivir to fill its cultivation tanks. However recently its intake has consisted of up to 70 per cent mud and this contamination of the water could force it to stop its activity if the problem continues.

More tests needed

The conventional fishing industry in Sanlúcar, famed for its fresh and shell fish, has also been worried since the problem started, fearing the murky water could damage their catches. Now politicians of all parties are demanding that the Ministry of the Environment confirms whether or not the cloudiness could have been caused by the Alcalá del Río reservoir. For its part the Andalucía Water Authority, through its president, says it believes the reservoir theory to be unlikely, but further tests will have to be carried out.

Rush on motorcycle licenses ahead of tougher exams

By Oliver McIntyre

Costa driving schools are reporting a surge in the number of people signing up to get a scooter or motorcycle licence ahead of the introduction of stricter rules and tougher testing on September 1.The new rules include an increase in the minimum age for getting a scooter licence, from the current 14 to 15, so many 14-year-olds are rushing to get their licence before the change goes into effect. But over-14s are also eager to get their scooter licence before September, as the new rules require a practical exam on a test track in addition to the current written exam.But it is not just young scooter riders who are affected. Riders of all types of motorcycles also face tougher testing. Until now, those taking out an A1 licence (for motorcycles up to 125cc) or an A licence (for motorcycles of more than 125cc) have had to take a written test and a practical exam on a test track. Starting in September, they will also have to take a second practical exam, this one on the streets in regular traffic, with the examiner giving commands via radio headset from a following car.In the future officials plan to introduce a new intermediate motorcycle licence that will allow riders to handle motorcycles only up to 400cc. Bigger motorcycles will require the rider to be 20 years old and to have two years experience with the intermediate licence.

Axarquía mayors tackle Junta on construction delays

By Dave Jamieson

The mayors of 10 Axarquía towns have sent a joint message on urban planning to the regional government. They say the Junta de Andalucía should be more flexible and speedy in dealing with applications for construction licences.A meeting of the mayors was held last Saturday in Torrox with representatives from towns not controlled by the PSOE party, which controls the Junta. These included Nerja, Torrox, Benamargosa, Benamocarra, Cómpeta, Canillas de Albaida, Algarrobo, Vélez-Málaga, Almáchar and Comares.José Luis Torres, the Partido Popular mayor of Cómpeta, who was elected to be the group's secretary, said the towns were "paralysed" due to delays in receiving approval for new projects. He said that as it is a problem affecting all town halls, the group had invited PSOE mayors to join in the initiative, but that socialist party loyalties prevented them from attending. Sr Torres took on the task of arranging an appointment with the Junta's new head of land-use and housing issues, Juan Espadas, to address specific problems, including the inability of town halls to licence the construction of anything other than agricultural buildings in the countryside.On the subject of homes built illegally in the country, the group noted that this also affects all town halls and recent weeks have seen legal proceedings started against present and former councillors in La Viñuela, Alcaucín, Cómpeta and Sayalonga, which are all PSOE-controlled towns. Recognising the high demand, particularly from foreigners, for homes outside population centres, the mayors say they want to explore the possibility of permitting more houses in country areas under a strict series of parameters. While local development plans (PGOUs) have been stalled, they warned, more flexibility is needed because, as Sr Torres put it, "Whether we like it or not, the towns exist on construction and tourism."The group plans to meet again, with each of its members reporting back on the situation in his or her municipality.

New electricity rate to cause shocking rise

By Oliver McIntyre

Consumer groups have warned that under a planned change to the special night-time electricity rate, people who use this discount plan will see their bills increase by up to 80 per cent.Since 1983 the night-time plan has offered users a discount of 55 per cent on energy consumed from 11pm to 7am, in exchange for a three per cent surcharge on any electricity used during the rest of the day.But under the Ministry of Industry-approved rate change, which takes effect July 1, the plan changes dramatically. The low-price night-time period is expanded from the current eight hours to 14 hours, but the discount during this period is reduced to 47 per cent, while the surcharge for daytime use surges to 35 per cent.Further, consumers using the night-time plan will be obligated to contract the maximum level of service required for their peak use.The Spanish Consumers' Union (UCE) says the upshot is that families will pay 140 euros more a year while the electricity companies will boost revenues by 150 million euros. It calls the rate change "unconstitutional" and says it plans to challenge it in the courts.Meanwhile, the National Energy Commission has requested that the ministry increase general electricity rates by 11 per cent in July. So far the amount of the rate change has not been announced but the prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, has said the increase will be "reasoned and reasonable," taking into account the current economic situation.