Costa del Sol News - 19th September 2008

News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol

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Week Septemner 18- Septemner 24 2008

Musical Mania

The Andy Ross Singers' concert in aid of Cudeca was held on September 5 at the El Mirador Hotel, Alhaurin El Grande in memory of Rene Frostick, a dear friend and member of the group who passed away at the Cudeca Hospice in March this year. The Singers performed a mixed programme of songs from West End shows, war time medleys, gospel, soul music and an excellent rendition of the Simon and Garfunkel number "Bridge Over Troubled Water". At the end of the concert they received a standing ovation from the 200-strong audience which included special guests, British consul Bruce McIntyre and his wife Norma. The concert was a huge success raising an impressive 1,300 euros. The Singers used the event to launch their new outfits and will now take a well-earned, two- week break before they resume rehearsals for their popular Christmas concert.

Bank manager gets two years for stealing from client

The former Cajamar employee stole 725,000 euros from clients' accounts

By Oliver McIntyre

A former manager of the Cajamar bank branch in Ardales has been convicted and sentenced to two years in prison for stealing 725,000 euros from bank clients.

The provincial court heard how in 1995 Antonio P.B., now 53, would handle transactions at the bank's satellite branch in Carratraca, which at the time had no computer terminal, meaning each operation had to be documented by hand and later entered into the computer in Ardales.

The bank manager took advantage of this system, keeping clients' deposits for himself and never entering the data into the computer. The bank books of customers were filled in manually by typewriter, so everything looked normal to them.

The manager swiped everything from basic savings account deposits to money that was supposed to be put into investment products. In all, 44 clients were affected, including individuals as well as institutional clients such as Carratraca town hall and a local agricultural cooperative.

The prosecutor was originally seeking five years, but in its sentencing the court took into account the fact that the defendant had since paid back the bulk of the money. He still owes a total 73,000 euros to 17 of the victims. The court also considered as a mitigating circumstance the depression the man was suffering at the time following the loss of a son.

Extortionist brothers arrested in Nerja sting operation

Two brothers allegedly posed as members of ETA to extort money from local businessmen

By Dave Jamieson

Two brothers, alleged to have posed as members of ETA in order to extort money from businessmen, have been arrested in Nerja. The pair were detained last Thursday when they arrived to collect money left for them in a litter bin.

The two men are believed to have demanded cash with threats from at least five people in Nerja, four in Torrox and one in Mijas, in each case falsely claiming to represent ETA and describing the payments as a "revolutionary tax." Sums demanded from their victims are believed to have ranged from 1,800 to 6,000 euros. The pair, originally from Asturias region, are understood to have lived at addresses in Fuengirola and Mijas.

Their final attempt at extortion began ten days ago when a businessman in Nerja received a telephone call from someone claiming to represent ETA. Threats were made against the man's children after which he was told a further phone call would tell him where to leave the 5,000 euros demanded. He was told that if he did not comply, "something bad" would happen to his family. The brothers then called again, advising that the payment should be made on Thursday of last week in the city of Málaga.

By this time, however, the victim had contacted the Guardia Civil who set up an operation to catch the perpetrators, but did not want the arrests to be attempted in the city where there was more chance of their escape. Instead, the victim told the extortionists that his mother was unwell and that he could not leave her, so the drop was changed instead to the roundabout on the N-340 near Nerja Caves at Maro, where the bag of cash was to be left in a rubbish bin.

At lunchtime last Thursday, when the brothers arrived by car to collect the money, they were surprised by the appearance of the police and tried to flee in their vehicle. A short chase ended when they abandoned the car and attempted to run off before finally being caught and arrested.

The investigation remains open as officers believe that more cases may now come to light from those who were threatened and were too frightened to report the incident. Those already investigated followed the same pattern, with threats made against the victim's family, often naming individual members to give added credibility, before a cash payment was demanded.;

Hours after the arrests took place the Minister of the Interior, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba congratulated the Guardia Civil on their ''excellent work'' and described the ETA group as currently ''the most active''. Although the Guardia Civil and Basque political groups aligned to ETA have described the Vizcaya group as a „commando„ the minister said he preferred the term ''complex''.

Earlier this month, South American police detained three people in Lima suspected of extorting money in the name of ETA from around 50 Spanish businesses.

Gibraltarian is leader of drug look out gang

Spanish police arrests four more people in ongoing Operation Roca

By David Eade

In a dramatic series of arrests by the National Police that included air and sea operations four people have been arrested for allegedly acting as look outs for hashish smugglers.

The gang, led by a Gibraltarian living in Algeciras, are said to have worked with seven different networks of drug traffickers. In an operation code name “Roca” the GRECO unit of the National Police covering the Costa del Sol swooped to round up the gang. The Royal Gibraltar Police were not involved in the arrests although a spokesperson stated that they were aware of surveillance of the Gibraltarian.

The arrests were part of an on-going operation that has seen a number of drug traffickers arrested in June and July in co-operation with the Customs authority. In all eight people have been arrested, 2,100 kilos of hashish seized and a 10-metre yacht, a launch and four jet skis impounded.

With regard to the look out gang they operated from strategic points along the coast from Sotogrande to Tarifa and including Gibraltar and the bay zone around Algeciras. They monitored the movements of sea and helicopter patrols of the National Police, Guardia Civil and Customs and then passed this information on to the drugs traffickers so they could avoid being intercepted. The look outs operated on a 24-hour basis working in shifts.

According to the police for this work they received both a large amount of money or part of the hashish consignment which they then sold on. It has been stressed that operation “Roca” still remains open and further arrests cannot be ruled out.

The Gibraltarian, who police insist is the leader of the gang, is aged 45. The other three are aged between 29 and 36 years were all born and are living in Algeciras.

El Sexmo: Don’t drink the water

Elevated nitrate levels have been detected in wells that supply the zone

By Oliver McIntyre

Residents of the El Sexmo district of Cártama were notified last week that their tap water is not fit for human consumption.

During routine testing, water supplier Aqualia found nitrate levels exceeding the legal limit of 50 mg/l, said the company, though it did not specify the exact level discovered. Costa del Sol News contacted Aqualia for further detail, but a company representative said that an exact figure could not be provided because “the levels fluctuate continually.

“Nitrates are salts that form part of our regular diet, and whose continued consumption in high quantities, or by especially vulnerable populations such as a foetus in a pregnant woman or a newborn baby, can pose a health risk,” said the company in a written statement.

It continued: “For this reason, our laws are very strict and, to prevent risk even for those populations most sensible to nitrates, the consumption of water with levels exceeding 50 mg/l is prohibited.”

Drought is cause

The company says the increased nitrate levels are the result of the ongoing drought, which has significantly reduced the water level of the wells that supply the El Sexmo zone. It says that to solve the problem the town hall must continue its work to improve the water network, making it possible to bring El Sexmo's supply from other sources.

Aqualia specified that while the tap water is considered non-potable, it can still be used for bathing and for washing laundry or dishes. It should not be used for drinking or for preparing food.

The town hall, in collaboration with Aqualia, is providing free drinking water via a tanker truck while the tap water ban remains in place.


Gibraltar welcomes back Manchester service

Monarch withdrew the link in 2006 largely due to the expensive landing fees at the time

By David Eade

With all the doom and gloom currently surrounding airlines some good news landed last week. On Friday Gibraltar celebrated as Monarch re-established its Manchester service to the Rock. The airline already flies between Gibraltar and London Luton but withdrew the Manchester link in 2006 and last year flew from Jerez instead.

The reason for Monarch pulling out of Gibraltar was largely down to the expensive landing fees. That has now been resolved by the Gibraltar government taking over the responsibility for these and other associated charges from the Ministry of Defence. The Rock already had several links with airports in the south east of England but the hotel industry had been hit by the withdrawal of the Manchester flights.

As the Monarch flight landed last Friday officials of the Gibraltar Tourist Board and Ernest Britto, the Minister for the Environment and Tourism, were on hand to greet the passengers. The GTB presented a miniature crystal Rock of Gibraltar model to departing and arriving passengers and the Gibraltar History Alive Group also gave a traditional touch to proceedings.

No Spanish zone at Gib's airport

The Gibraltar government has acted swiftly to correct press reports in Spain on the new Gibraltar air terminal, which "does not give an accurate or correct impression of what will happen."

The statement added: "As is known those checks, for which the passenger remains on the Gibraltar side of the frontier, will be carried out on passengers travelling to or from a Spanish airport, who enter or exit Gibraltar Airport via its Gibraltar entrance/ exit."

Summer deluge causes chaos along eastern coast

First heavy rain for months brings flooding, power cuts and rescues

By Dave Jamieson

After four months without any rain, things changed dramatically in the early hours of last Wednesday when a huge thunderstorm passed across the Axarquía. Three people had to be rescued from their homes in Periana and thousands were left without power after the heavens opened and dumped more than 30 litres of water per square metre in some places. Alcaucín recorded 30.3 litres while the water treatment plant at Trapiche, near Vélez-Málaga, was drenched by 44.6 litres per square metre.

The worst hit town was Periana where water caused serious problems in five houses with damage to walls and roofs. Residents said that the flood reached a depth of two metres within five minutes, requiring the evacuation of three people, including a 90-year-old man. Fire crews from Periana and Colmenar were supported by others from Vélez-Málaga as the clean-up operation began. Damage was estimated at 300,000 euros.

Meanwhile, the small community of La Capellanía was isolated by the storm after the only access track was rendered almost impassable by flood water. The residents’ association president, Cristóbal Trujillo, wrote to Vélez-Málaga complaining that the only vehicles getting in or out were 4x4s. He also reminded the council that 150 metres of asphalted road to avoid such situations was promised by councillors in November 2006 but has yet to be constructed.

Málaga city was also affected

The city of Málaga, which received a fifth of its total rainfall this year in just three hours, reported more flooding and numerous felled trees as the storm swept through. The emergency services were also called in to help at several sites in the Guadalhorce valley between 7 and 8 am.

Around 6,000 consumers were without electricity for several hours after up to 400 bolts of lightning took their toll on the supply network. More than 2,500 people in Torrox were without power for almost six hours.

Endesa inaugurates largest solar energy plant

The San Roque facility will generate enough power for 25,000 homes

By David Eade

On Wednesday Endesa inaugurated the largest solar energy plant in Andalucía, located on the Guadaranque industrial estate in San Roque. The ceremony was carried out by the regional government’s minister of innovation, science and business, Francisco Vallejo, in the presence of officials from Endesa and the mayor of San Roque, José Vázquez.

The giant 37-hectare zone of solar panels has seen an investment of 90 million euros, the largest ever made in Andalucía. It has the potential to produce 24 gigawatts of clean electricity every year, the equivalent of the consumption of 25,000 homes, and 65.5 per cent of the total uptake by the San Roque area.

Cádiz was chosen specifically as a location because it has the highest number of sun hours per year. The panels used were manufactured using technology developed in Andalucía. Each panel has a generating potential of 12.3 megawatts, which can be increased to 20.

Sustainable energy

Rafael Miranda, a director of Endesa, promised that the company was dedicated to producing electricity from sustainable sources. He added that Endesa has four million clients in Andalucía and is investing one billion euros a year, with the Campo de Gibraltar in the vanguard of this development.

Anger over fine for Mari Luz judge

Rafael Tirado failed to jail alleged killer after he was sentenced in a previous case

By David Eade

There has been widespread anger and disbelief over the decision by the Consejo General del Poder Judicial (CGPJ) to treat the case of judge Rafael Tirado as “serious” rather than “very serious” and hence only impose a 1,500 euros fine.

The judge is in the dock because he was in charge of the Sevilla court that failed to imprison Santiago Del Valle, the alleged killer of Mari Luz Cortes. Mari Luz’s family have argued that had Del Valle been in jail then he would not have been free to abduct their child (which he admits) and murder her (which he denies claiming her death was an accident).

However the decision by the CGPJ is not the end of the matter. The prosecutor was seeking the “very serious” charge which would have seen Tirado suspended from his office as a judge with a possible end to his career on the bench. He will now take the case to appeal.

The decision to impose the fine was labelled as an “indignity” by Mari Luz’s father, Juan José Cortes. There has also been a demonstration by over 200 people in the plaza de la Rosa in Huelva, the family’s home town, against the ruling by the CGPJ.

More importantly the decision has been greeted with anger in the corridors of power in Madrid. The president of the government, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, stated that he “disagreed” with the CGPJ’s decision and fully supported the family. The leader of the Partido Popular opposition, Mariano Rajoy, expressed his pain to the Cortes family and stated that he hoped the prosecutor would succeed in his appeal.

New legislation

Meanwhile the government has stated that it intends to bring forth legislation this autumn that will see paedophiles and terrorists be subjected to being kept under watch for 20 years after their conviction.

The ministers of justice and the interior, Mariano Fernández Bermejo and Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, have met to discuss the required changes to the penal code. The supervision could include occasional appearances before courts, the wearing of electronic tags, programmes for the re-introduction in to society and chemical castration for sex offenders who are willing to accept this option. These measures will not be retro-active and hence will not apply to those currently in jail.

In addition to these measures the ministry of justice has announced that it is setting up a sex offender's register in the first months of 2009. The data will allow paedophiles to be identified immediately and prevent them from working with children following their conviction.

Back to school for Andalucía’s 1.7 million students

Monday also marked first day of school for Spain’s Princess Leonor

By Dave Jamison and David Eade

Almost 1.3 million students across Andalucía went back to school on Monday. The three- to 16-year-olds now studying at over 4,900 schools will be joined by a further 394,000 thousand members of the more senior classes who resume college next Monday. The total of almost 1.7 million now attending the region’s schools and colleges is nearly 33,500 more than during the 2007-8 year.

The EU’s telecoms commissioner, Viviane Reding, said the new rule is in response to the failure of the mobile phone operators to reduce the charges voluntarily, as she recommended last year. At that time, she suggested a maximum charge of 0.12 euros.

The figures were given last week by the Junta de Andalucía’s education councillor, Teresa Jiménez, who said that the region now had a total of 5,757 schools staffed by 117,300 teachers.

Almost a million scholars aged six to 16 years are entitled to free textbooks this year as a part of a scheme which has been introduced gradually since 2005 by the Junta’s Education Department. It is estimated that this project will cost the region more than 100 million euros in this academic year. In addition, over 28,000 students at higher levels are now entitled to free transport to their colleges, a move costing the Junta 14.2 million euros.

The year also sees the introduction of 116 new bilingual education centres across Andalucía, bringing the region’s total to 518. Of these, the majority teach in English as well as Spanish, while 52 offer education in French and nine in German.

There are 27 new schools, seven of them at secondary level, and a new upper college of dramatic art this year, with improvements and expansion programmes either completed or underway at 37 others. However, concern has been expressed at the number of pupils who have started the new term studying in prefabricated buildings. The Junta says it is waiting for land to become available in several areas so that existing schools and colleges can be expanded.

Princess's school debut

School opened elsewhere in the country on Monday as well, and the nation’s eyes were on one three-year-old in particular – the Infanta Leonor, who, accompanied by her parents, Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia, went for her first day of school at the the Colegio Santa María de los Rosales in Madrid. Her father knew the way, having attended the same school from infant grade till he passed his Bachillerato.

The Príncipe de Asturias told reporters that Leonor was very excited about going to "the older children's school." The royal couple wanted their eldest daughter to be part of the Spanish education system and to be taught in a mixed school. Her education is of particular importance because it is likely that she will one day succeed her father to the Spanish throne

Exhumation debate goes before judge

Lorca is believed to have been buried with three other people

By Dave Jamieson

The argument about whether the body of the poet Lorca should be exhumed moved forward last week when the grand-daughter of a teacher, believed to be buried in the same communal grave, petitioned for her grandfather's exhumation. Nieves Galindo said her request to Judge Baltasar Garzón would reduce the importance of the present silence on the matter maintained by the Lorca family.

Federico García Lorca was murdered, aged 38, at the start of the Civil War in August 1936. The poet and dramatist was thrown into an unmarked grave near Granada, after which the Franco regime placed a complete ban on his works. However, in recent years, the authorities have taken action to find hundreds of war victims who also lie in unmarked graves across the country. Volunteers from the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory have exhumed the remains of around 1,200 people found in 120 graves over the last eight years.

Nieves Galindo is searching for the remains of Dióscoro Galindo, a teacher who was also shot in August 1936 and is thought to share a grave with Lorca, a plumber named Francisco Galadí, and an anarchist, Joaquín Arcollas. However, the Lorca family have consistently opposed requests for exhumation by remaining silent.

As she entered court to present her case to Judge Garzón last Friday, Sra Galindo expressed her total confidence in his views, saying that this initiative was her last hope of achieving the exhumation of her grandfather's remains. Together with her petition, the Judge was also provided with a dossier detailing the location of the grave which is believed to lie somewhere between Víznar and Alfacar.

The vice-president of the Association and mayor of the Granada town of Pulianas, Rafael Gil Bracero, said identifying the remains would not be difficult as Sra Galindo's grandfather had lost a leg and could also be matched to her by DNA, while the injuries sustained by Lorca were documented and photographed. He described the way in which the exhumation had been delayed as "scandalous."