Costa del Sol News - 17th September 2010

News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol

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The Tangier Two

Diplomats and local Spanish politicians appeal to Morocco to free innocent men

By David Eade

ON JUNE 5 Jorge Cano, who owns a car workshop in Los Barrios, along with his young son David and one of his employees, Juan Jóse Ruiz, set off in his boat moored at Saladillo in Algeciras. They sailed to the nearby waters off Tarifa to do some fishing.

Then matters took a turn for the worse. Fog came down, they found they were low on fuel and instead of ending up off Tarifa they were just 50 metres from the Moroccan coast with just a litre in the boat's fuel tank. They summoned help from the Spanish Coast Guard but it was a Moroccan patrol boat that rescued them.

The Moroccans found the trio disorientated on their small boat. They were ordered to wait whilst the patrol boat did a search of the area and came back 30 minutes later with eight bales of hashish and two mobile phones plus an aquatic jet ski found 800 metres away. They were then taken into detention.

At the time the word was they had to undergo formalities because of their unusual entry in to Morocco without passports. After being held in a detention centre for several days they were moved to Tangier and the son was released, returning home by ferry. It was presumed they would follow within days but slowly news of the drugs link emerged and three months on they are still there.

The Spanish Consul and the Andalucía Ombudsman took up their case but made little headway against the Moroccan judicial system. They have now been sentenced to three years in jail plus face a fine of one million euros. They maintain that a Moroccan judge made them sign a blank form in the presence of their local lawyer. This form was apparently later filled in by the Gendarmerie in Tangier to the effect they confessed that a haul of drugs was theirs.

There is no evidence to link Jorge and his crew with the find. Furthermore the Salvamento Marítimo knows the identity of the owner of the Jet Ski which had broken down because it was in touch with this person but will not realise the information to the Moroccan judge because it insists it would infringe the data protection act.

Once it was clear the detention of Jorge and Juan was more than just administrative red tape the council of Los Barrios held a special session in late July to unanimously offer its support to the men.

Politicians do not go out on a limb for drug traffickers but on Thursday September 9 the mayor of Los Barrios, Juan Montedeoca, plus every leader of the various parties represented on the council travelled to Tangier to be with Jorge and Juan, to show solidarity and to discuss their appeal. On Monday September 20 at 19.30 the people of Los Barrios will gather outside the town hall in a plea for their immediate return.

The Spanish consul in Tangier, José de Carvajal, has said that when an appeal against their conviction is presented on September 28 he is confident that official paperwork will be presented to prove their innocence. By then he presumably hopes that Salvamento Marítimo will agree to reveal the identity of the owner of the Jet Ski.

Work set to restart on Sol Dorado retirement complex

Pensioners involved in the project can now 'see the light at the end of the tunnel'

By Oliver McIntyre

WORK ON the long-stalled Sol Dorado retirement complex in Pizarra, which was around 80 per cent complete when construction was halted more than two and a half years ago, is set to restart after the town hall last week granted the construction licence.

The project was halted in January 2008 - after work had been underway for nearly two years - when irregularities were detected in the provisional licence under which construction had started. Problems included the fact that the project was located on land classified as 'rustic', as well as a lack of certain documentation required by the Junta de Andalucía's Public Works Department.

Since then the town hall and the cooperative behind the project - which is made up mainly by elderly people who plan on living in the luxury complex - have worked together to address all of the problems, starting with the formal reclassification of the property as 'urban' land in October 2008.

Work on roads and infrastructure at the site restarted in June 2009, but construction on the residential complex itself - with 204 apartments, an assisted-living facility and other health and leisure amenities - remained idle until the granting of the licence last week.

"With the signing of the construction licence we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel," said the town's mayor, Francisco Vargas. "We have suffered protests, exaggerated statements in the press, et cetera, but the important thing is that the project now moves forward with the all the necessary administrative blessings, and that the elderly residents behind it - and those who will join it in the future - can fulfil their dreams of living in this outstanding geriatric residential complex."

Officials did not specify the estimated completion date for the work.

USS The Sullivans marines visit the Cudeca Hospice

The men are part of a project that helps local communities wherever they visit

By Laura Haggis

ON September 8th, Cudeca was delighted to receive 15 US Navy sailors and chiefs, led by Chaplain Trofort, from the USS The Sullivans, an Arleigh Burke class destroyer of the U.S. Navy on its way home to Florida after seven months at sea.

When in port, the men like to keep up with COMREL (Community Relations Project) which involves helping with local community services, and Cudeca was the grateful recipient.

As always, we were impressed with the marines' military efficiency and in just a few hours they had finished all the painting that needed doing, and tidied the gardens. We then took a walk around the Hospice and visited the Day Care Centre, where Chaplain Trofort offered a heartfelt prayer for Cudeca's patients and handed Katie O'Neill, charity shop coordinator, a beautiful wooden plaque for the Hospice.

Cudeca is always in need of volunteers for all sorts of tasks. If you would like to help out as a volunteer or alternatively become a benefactor, please email the Hospice at \n [email protected] This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it or call 952 56 49 10.

Undercover cops set to shock cable thieves

The robberies have cost the town hall 80,000 euros so far this year

By Oliver McIntyre

JUST LAST month Alhaurín de la Torre town hall issued a call to the public to help catch electrical cable thieves, and now local officials are taking action of their own.

An undercover police unit has been put on the case, with goal of "surprising the thieves in action."

Officials say that since January thieves have stolen some 25 kilometres of cable from the municipal grid, costing the town hall 80,000 euros to replace. The thefts have taken place both in town and in outlying districts.

The town hall says the local police are receiving support from the Guardia Civil, which is also stepping up patrolling for cable robberies. Nonetheless, the town hall's Security Department acknowledges that "it is still difficult to catch the thieves red-handed, and they sometimes act in broad daylight to make it appear that they are municipal employees working in the street."

In addition to stepping up patrolling and assigning undercover officers to pursue the thieves, the town hall has reiterated its call for public support in nabbing the culprits.

Anyone suspicious that a theft might be underway is asked to immediately contact the local police (952 410 800) or Guardia Civil (952 410 008).

Property Tsar Arrives

New British Consulate advisor on expat property problems launches fact-finding misión

By Dave Jones

AN OVERSEAS residents' advisor has been employed by the UK government to investigate expats' property problems in Spain.

Alexandra Brown took up her post in the British Consulate General in Madrid last week.

The appointment follows strong comments made by British Ambassador Giles Paxman in an interview with this newspaper two weeks ago on property issues.

He said: "We are aware of a huge number of cases in which people have had problems with their properties in Spain."

Mr Paxman also said that people "had been the victims of inadequacies and confusion in the Spanish planning system".

A spokeswoman for the British Embassy said this week: "We are aware that, of the one million British nationals who live in Spain all or part of the year, a small minority have encountered real problems in property disputes.

"The temporary advisor position has been created to deepen our understanding and develop our expertise in the complex area of property laws and regulations.

"Alex's role will be primarily research-based, as she monitors the potential impact of difficulties on British property owners in Spain."

She added that over the next few months Ms Brown would be contacting various groups and authorities "to further her understanding" of property problems.

Ms Brown will also be identifying sources of information and advice which could be useful for such British nationals.

Two people injured in armoured vehicle raid

The gunmen dropped the bags of cash in their haste to get away

By David Eade

TWO people were injured, one by a bullet, after raiders held up an armoured cash delivery vehicle at the doors of Carrefour in Estepona.

The shooting happened at 11am last Friday when three men carried out the attack on the armoured vehicle which had drawn up to replenish one of the cash machines in the commercial centre's entrance.

According to eyewitnesses one of the robbers held a gun to the head of a security guard who was carrying various bags of money. There was then an exchange of shots between the gunman and the security guards in the van.

As a result of the gunfire a woman volunteer with Cruz Roja was wounded in the leg when a bullet rebounded off a wall. She had been at the supermarket as part of a campaign to collect school materials for less well-off families.

In addition one of the security guards received a head wound from a pistol butt.

ETA 'ceasefire' met with heavy scepticism

Government says fight against Basque terrorists continues

By David Eade

WHEN the Basque terrorist group ETA announced a loosely-worded ceasefire to the BBC and Gara newspaper on Sunday, Spanish officials reacted with heavy scepticism. 

The government has plenty of reason to be wary of ETA's latest peace overture; over the period it has carried out its campaign it has allegedly killed 829 people and declared 11 ceasefires. Since its last truce ended in 2006 a total of 12 people have been killed.

In the first official response from Madrid, on Monday the minister of the interior, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, dismissed the announcement, saying it merely reflected that ETA is so weakened it cannot go on.

If the Basque separatists are talking of a truce, certainly Madrid isn't. The Spanish government and security forces, working closely with their counterparts in France, believe they are on a winning roll with frequent arrests of terrorists and the discovery of weapons and explosives. The campaign against ETA continues with all the determination and rigour of before.

Interviewed on the television programme "Los Desayunos de TVE" Sr Rubalcaba stated: "ETA, because it cannot go on any more, has taken this action after its base in Obidos (Portugal) was dismantled along with the dismantling of another base in Gerona. ETA intends to reconstruct, it is nothing more than a deceit. We cannot rely on the ceasefire and the government is sceptical and the Ministry of the Interior will keep intact its anti-terrorism policy."

Sr Rubalcaba was adamant that neither he nor the security forces trusted the words of ETA and that they had good grounds for such mistrust. He added that ETA was likely to break the truce at anytime and return to its killing and bombing campaign.

The minister also had words for Batasuna, the political voice of ETA in the Basque region. He said the party would not be allowed to participate in the municipal elections because it is illegal, "because the courts have said it is part of ETA.  Therefore if it wishes to participate in these elections it must either break away from ETA or convince ETA that is has to give up violence for good."

Alert over online rental rip-offs

Bogus listings look like great deals but money is demanded upfront, site unseen

By Oliver McIntyre

THE CONSUMER watchdog Facua has issued an alert after people have been ripped-off by fraudulent online classified ads listing flats for rent. 

"They offer flats for very attractive prices," said the consumer group in a written notice.  "In order to request the money up front, the supposed owners claim to live outside of Spain and that they are thus unable to show the flat." 

The scammers then request one or more months' rent as a deposit in the case of long-term rentals, or an upfront payment for a holiday rental.  They will typically instruct the prospective renter to transfer the money into a provided bank account or to wire it either directly to the ‘owner' or to a messenger company that will supposedly deliver the keys and rental contract immediately upon receipt of the money.

"But the company referred to offers no such service and the advertisers are not the owners of the flat - the money goes straight to the fraudsters," says Facua.

The group also warns that while the bogus ads often list enticingly low prices and provide only an email address as contact information, there are also cases where the property is listed at a normal price and a mobile phone number is provided. 

Tips for consumers

Facua says that it is of course preferable to never pay in advance and without having seen a property, but acknowledges that such practices are not uncommon, especially for holiday rentals.  It recommends that prospective renters attempt to confirm the owner of the flat by checking the property register.  The group also says it is safer to make payments via bank transfer than by wiring the money, as "generally banks allow [a transfer order] to be revoked within a determined time period."  A local bank told Costa del Sol News this period is generally during the same day the transfer was ordered.