Costa del Sol News - 19th March 2010

News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol

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From here to Timbuktu - for charity

Two British women to ride quad bikes on 5,000-mile journey to raise money for cancer

By Oliver McIntyre

TWO EXPAT British women are preparing for a gruelling, month-long quad-bike ride from Alhaurín el Grande to Timbuktu in Western Africa - all for the cause of raising money for cancer charities. 

"We are two mature ladies with the same mission," say Katrina Smith, 42, and Margo Dalby (who allows only that she is "much older") on their website,  Both lost close relatives to cancer - Katrina her grandmother and Margo her mother - and they decided: "Let's not just sit here - let's do something about it," Ms Dalby told Costa del Sol News. 

The two women, both active adventurists and quad bike enthusiasts, hatched the plan to ride across Africa to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support and other cancer charities.  Along the way they will also stop at schools and orphanages to drop off donated supplies.

The pair plan to set out from Alhaurín on October 9 and hope to make the more than 5,000-mile trip to Timbuktu, Mali, in around 35 days.  Between now and their departure date they are ramping up their fundraising efforts, which will included a number of events in Spain in the UK as well as a push for online donations through their website. 

Asked about their fundraising goal, Ms Smith said: "Absolutely as much as possible.  We're doing a huge journey and we're expecting to raise huge funds." In addition to Macmillan, donations will go to the Cudeca cancer hospice in Benalmádena and the local Alhaurín health centre.

But the reasons behind their adventure - the memory of the loved ones they lost to cancer - make it all worthwhile.  "I'm doing it for love - for my grandmother," said Ms Smith.

School commission to root out admissions fraud

Some parents fake divorce to increase children's chance of getting into preferred school

By Oliver McIntyre

THE Provincial School Admissions Commission plans to help root out cases of parents giving a false home address for their child or faking divorce or separation in order to improve the child's chances of getting admitted to their school of choice.

Due to the point system used for admissions preference at schools where demand exceeds available slots, it has long been an open secret that some parents register their child at the address of a friend or relative who lives near the school, thus achieving the maximum 10 points for proximity.  While less common, there have also been reported cases of parents faking divorce or separation when in fact they are still together, in order to gain a couple more points for being a single-parent family.  

The issue was one of the topics discussed at last week's meeting of the commission, which resolved that tighter controls will be put on the official documentation required from families listed as single-parent households.  In regard to the child's home address, if any doubt is raised, additional documentation will be requested to back up the child's ‘empadronamiento' (town hall register) certificate. 

Ballena Blanca trial starts

Nineteen people are accused of numerous charges including money laundering, tax fraud and falsifying testimonies and documents

By David Eade

THE TRIAL for what is being touted by the Spanish media as Spain's largest ever drugs money-laundering case, Ballena Blanca, started this week in Málaga city. The public prosecutor's office is seeking 65 years in jail for the 19 people in the dock who face numerous charges for money laundering, offences against the tax authority, falsifying testimonies and documents.

The Andalucía High Court (TSJA) predicts that the trial will last six months and over that period the court will hear questions from lawyers, the declarations of the accused followed by those of the witnesses, proof of evidence and then the conclusion.

This is the first of the so-called macro juicios (mega trials) to be held in Málaga this year - the Malaya case is scheduled to start shortly - and it has attracted its own media circus. Around 176 journalists representing 25 media organisations have been accredited to the court.

Ballena Blanca first hit the headlines in March 2005 when the Chilean lawyer Fernando Del Valle was arrested in Marbella. The police believe he is the mastermind of the money laundering scheme that involved 50 people in a number of countries.

Del Valle who was freed on 600,000 euros bail after a seven-month stint in prison faces a 15-year jail term and a fine of 37 million euros.

Axarquía alert on Portuguese Man-of-War

Latest warning follows recent sightings in Gibraltar and Marbella

By Dave Jamieson

A NUMBER of dangerous jellyfish were spotted on Axarquía beaches last week. Vélez-Málaga Civil Protection issued a warning after around 20 specimens were found in Almayate by a member of the public who was concerned about their similarity to the Portuguese Man-of-War species.

Experts from the Junta's Marine Protection Agency attended the beach and confirmed that the identification was correct. It is believed to be the first time that the species has been found in the area. In recent weeks there have been spottings in Gibraltar and Marbella.

Three kilometres of beaches in Almayate and Valle-Niza were immediately cordoned off with warning notices posted in Spanish and English. Over 20 more specimens were subsequently found on other beaches including Torre del Mar, Benajarafe and Chilches during an inspection of all 22 kilometres of the Vélez-Málaga coastline.

Local police and civil protection officers have warned that if any more of the creatures are found, they should not be touched, even if they appear to be dead, but should be reported to the authorities.

Terminal 3 takes off

King Juan Carlos presides over official inauguration of Málaga airport's new wing

By Dave Jamieson

THE third passenger terminal at Málaga airport was officially inaugurated on Monday and became operational on Tuesday, handling 136 flights and over 20,000 passengers on its first day.  Its construction has been part of an ongoing 10-year investment programme at the site into which the Spanish airports operator Aena is pouring 1.8 billion euros.

King Juan Carlos performed the opening ceremony of terminal 3 (T3), accompanied by the president of Andalucía, José Antonio Griñán, and the minister for public works, José Blanco.  Around 500 guests representing the worlds of politics and aviation mingled in the stunning new building of metal and glass designed by Bruce S. Fairbanks, who also designed the airport's control tower.  His task was to integrate all three terminals at the airport under the concept of a single terminal, making passenger transits simpler and more practical.  

Beneath the 117 pyramids that form T3's roof, there are 250,000 square metres of floor space in three areas: the processor building, the boarding area and the transportation hub.  The first contains the departure hall with 86 check-in desks, two of them for special baggage, and 15 automatic check-in machines.  The arrivals level has nine luggage carousels for EU flights and two for flights from other countries, while the automated baggage handling system can cope with up to 7,500 items per hour.  The area has 24 retail outlets and 21 bars and restaurants, including the second-largest duty free shop in Europe and National Geographic's first retail outlet in any airport.

The boarding area, known as Dock D, is 240 metres long and has 20 boarding gates.  Twelve aircraft are accessible directly from the area with a further eight parked further out on the airfield.  The last four gates are used for traffic to countries which are not part of the Schengen agreement on cross-border travel.

The transportation hub links the new terminal with the bus station, taxi rank, airport car parks and, in the future, with an underground railway station on the Málaga-Fuengirola Cercanías line.

Amongst over 30 airlines using the new terminal are British Airways, SAS, Spanair and Vueling.  Another 18 including Aer Lingus, BMI, easyJet, Flybe, Monarch and Ryanair are continuing to arrive at and depart from T2, while will use T1 until the end of the month before moving to T2, after which T1 closes to the public.  Aena have launched an SMS text-message service for passengers to find out which terminal their flights will use; text the airline name to 27472.  The cost is 35 cents including IVA.

English soccer stars in property own goal

Wayne Rooney, Robbie Savage and others sue over Costa real estate investment flop

By David Eade

WAYNE ROONEY, Robbie Savage, Jason Wilcox, Brian Deane and Rio Ferdinand are names known to every follower of English soccer. The other thing they have in common is that they all invested in properties at Monte Resina close to Los Arqueros on the boundaries between Marbella and Benahavís. Now all except Rio Ferdinand are allegedly going to court over the drop in the properties' values.

It is reported that the players were tempted to buy the villas at advantageous prices on the luxury urbanisation as an investment. The company that advised them on the purchase is now being hauled in to court as the players seek damages for the loss of value. However the company concerned argues that it is not to blame and the collapse in the properties valuation is due to the fall in the market brought on by the recession.

The players are angry because not only have the property values fallen but they have not seen the expected growth promised for their investments. Their advisor in the purchases insists it will defend its actions vigorously.

Sky is the limit for internet roaming charges

Mobile operators not allowing customers to set monthly charge limit, says Facua

By David Eade

From March 1 phone users have the right to ask for a limit of up to 50 euros a month to be placed on their mobile phone so they do not incur large internet ‘roaming' charges. Although the measure is an EU law, the telephone companies are not providing the service, says the consumer watchdog Facua - Consumidores en Acción.

Facua has denounced the Spanish mobile phone operators for not meeting their obligation to limit internet roaming within the EU for those users who have requested it, saying in many cases the companies' customer service representatives appear to not even know that such a service exists.

The law that gives users this right is the EU regulation CE 544/2009, passed on June 18 of last year. Facua claims that Movistar, Vodafone and Orange have not ensured that all the operators on their ‘atención al cliente' service have been made aware of the new regulation.

Hence if a user contacts the mobile company to request their billing be limited they are told it is not available or fobbed off with some other excuse, says the group.

Facua also blames the consumer and telecommunications authorities for not exercising sufficient control.

Spain has fewer traffic deaths than suicides

Sharp drop in road fatalities makes suicide top cause of unnatural death

By Oliver McIntyre

SUICIDE has surpassed traffic accidents as the top cause of unnatural deaths in Spain, according to the most recent data from the National Statistics Institute (INE), from 2008, which was released last week.

But the rise of suicide to the top spot was due less to an increase in the number of people who took their own lives - at 3,421 the figure was up about five per cent on the previous year - as to a drastic decrease in the number of traffic deaths, which plummeted by 21 per cent to 3,021. 

More than three-quarters of suicide victims were men, at 2,649, compared to 772 women, according to the INE report, titled Defunciones según la Causa de Muerte (Mortality by Cause of Death).