Costa del Sol News - 4th February 2011

News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol

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Home foreclosure clears buyer's debt, says court

Bank attempted to collect additional money because home's value has dropped

By Oliver McIntyre

IN A  groundbreaking ruling, a Navarra court has stated that when a bank forecloses on a home, the homeowner must be forgiven the entire mortgage loan amount, regardless of whether the home's current value is less than the outstanding debt.

The ruling, the first of its kind in Spain, came in the case of a homeowner who defaulted on a 71,000-euro loan from BBVA bank, which foreclosed on the home and put it up for auction. However, the flat failed to sell at auction and was awarded back to the bank at a value of 43,000 euros.  The bank demanded payment from the homeowner to make up the difference, a common practice in Spain.

But the Navarra court found that the bank itself had placed the value of the home at 76,000 euros when it gave the 71,000-euro loan.  As such, the property covers the principal loan amount, and the only additional amount the bank can pursue is for outstanding interest and costs, said the court. The court ruled that the fact that the home was valued at 43,000 euros at auction was "incidental." 

Consumer groups have applauded the ruling but caution that it does not truly set legal precedent until upheld by the Supreme Court, given that BBVA has already indicated it will file an appeal.  The president of the Spanish Consumers' Union (UCE), José Ángel Oliván, said the ruling meets a long-standing demand of consumers and is particularly timely given the "astronomical" surge in home foreclosures as a result of the economic crisis.

Granada refuses Ryanair grant

The airline cancelled its 28 weekly flights last May after subsidy deal was dropped

By Dave Jamieson

GRANADA town hall says there is no possibility of offering financial incentives to Ryanair for it to restart flights to the city. The Irish low-budget airline ended its services to Granada last year, claiming it was owed money by the local authority.

The city's tourism councillor has "completely ruled out" offering any kind of grant or subsidy to Ryanair. Speaking at the tourism exhibition Fitur in Madrid, Marífran Carazo said that, while the carrier's flights were good for the region, the benefits were not great enough to justify paying Ryanair for the privilege.

The airline cancelled its 28 weekly flights to Granada last May after Granada town council refused to continue paying to subsidise the service.

The arrangement had been criticised by other carriers who argued it was anti-competitive and artificially increased passenger numbers on the route. One of these, Air Berlin, confirmed last week that it also had no plans to return to Granada, adding there was not sufficient demand and that Málaga airport was nearby.

Last March, Granada's provincial government said it had become impossible to maintain the deal signed with Ryanair in 2005 and renewed annually. This is included three annual payments, each of 400,000 euros, to which contributions were made by the town hall and local chamber of commerce, the hoteliers association and savings banks, and the owners of the Sierra Nevada ski resort, all of which had been badly hit by the recession.

Briton shot outside his BenalmÁdena home

The victim is in a stable but serious condition

By Oliver McIntyre

A 58-YEAR-OLD Briton is reported to be in stable but serious condition after he was shot outside his home in Benalmádena last Thursday night.

The man, P.R.C., was rushed to Málaga's Hospital Clínico and received emergency surgery for intestinal damage from at least two gunshots.

The shooting took place at around 10pm outside the man's home in Calle Londres in the Torremar urbanisation. Officers are understood to have found casings at the scene that have been sent for forensic analysis.

Police indicated that the man has no prior police record in Spain but, given the gangland style of the shooting, all avenues of investigation remain open, including the possibility that it was a payback crime or a case of mistaken identity.

The incident was the third shooting in the province since the start of the year.

On January 4 a 54-year-old Briton was shot in the face in the garage of his Mijas home, while on January 10 a 29-year-old Moroccan man received a gunshot to the stomach in Vélez-Málaga. Both men survived after undergoing surgical treatment.


Expats could regain right to vote in UK general elections

By Oliver McIntyre

BRITONS living in Spain who have lost their right to vote in UK general elections could soon win it back, thanks to a suit filed by an expat living in Italy.

Based on the case brought by 90-year-old Harry Shindler, the European Court of Human Rights has asked the British government to explain its policy of automatically revoking citizens' right to vote if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years. 

According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, in its request the Strasbourg court states: "One of the major concerns of the Council of Europe is to preserve and strengthen democracy and civic rights of member states.

"Steps should therefore be taken to ensure that every national of a member state is able to exercise his political rights, at least in his country of origin, when he resides in another Council of Europe member state."

If Mr Shindler wins his case, it could open the door for thousands of expats throughout Europe and possibly beyond to regain their say in national politics ‘back home'.

"Due regard should be given to the voting rights of citizens living abroad," says the court in its request. "The right to vote is an essential freedom in every democratic nation."

The British Government has until April 7 to respond to the request.

Does bank camera hold key to child killer?

A venta owner has declared that a man with muddy feet and no coat requested a taxi the morning after the murder, before Maria Esther's body was found

By David Eade

IT IS two weeks since María Esther Jiménez's body was found battered in the pump house of a swimming pool in a field behind houses in the village of Arriate. At the time of going to press no arrest has been made although with DNA tests due back any time the situation could quickly change.

Unlike Britain, which is known as the 'surveillance society', security cameras in Spain are few and far between. However the camera at La Caixa bank, just across the street from the apartment block where María Esther lived with her family, could hold the vital clue Guardia Civil murder squad investigators are looking for.

The main street on which the bank stands is just a minute away from where the 13-year-old spent her last hours with friends at the bus shelter. Just up from the bank on the right are an alleyway and road which leads to the murder site.

Officers have now questioned several times the man who says whilst walking his dog he passed María Esther in the company of an adult male by the rail bridge just yards from where she was killed. He knew the girl and she returned his greeting but he did not recognise the man nor did he speak. It is the last known sighting of her live.

The owner of a venta has also come forward to say that around seven on the morning of January 20, after the killing but before her body was discovered, a man with muddy feet and no overcoat on a freezing morning came in and asked for the phone number of a taxi. The owner didn't have a number so he left in search of one wanting to go to the neighbouring village of Alcalá del Valle (Cádiz). Officers questioned the owner several times and showed him photographs of various people but without any success. Such a man's presence ties in with the sighting of María Esther walking with a stranger.

Gang bought babies from destitute women

Pregnant women were offered 10,000 euros to give their newborns for adoption

By David Eade

THE GUARDIA Civil have arrest six people in the break-up of a gang that allegedly offered up to 10,000 euros to indigent pregnant women if they would hand over their baby for adoption. 

Among the six people arrested - a 43-year-old man plus five women aged 43 to 49 - are those accused of brokering the deals, as well as some of the would-be adoptive parents and at least one of the mothers who had allegedly agreed to sell her baby years.

As the result of the operation officers frustrated the sale of an unwanted baby that the mother was carrying for the would-be adoptive family.

One of the gang apparently had the role of being in touch with the destitute women in Santa Cruz telling them that if they did not want their baby after birth it was possible to receive money from families desperate to adopt.

This person also sought out families who could not have children and were willing to pay for an adoptive child.

The Guardia Civil investigation started last October when it was discovered that two mothers had been approached to sell their babies. The women were in an extreme state of necessity and lacked the resources to bring up their children.

Officers observed as one of the women, described as a drug addict, met numerous times with a well-off family on the island and allegedly formalised the deal. When she gave birth at Hospital Universitario de Canarias, officers moved in to make the arrest and prevent her from selling the newborn child.  They also arrested the couple who were allegedly going to adopt the baby, who in turn identified two people who had been involved in brokering the deal.

At the hospital officers also arrested a man who they caught allegedly attempting to bring a dose of heroine to the pregnant woman. 

Investigations continue in an effort to identify possible previous cases of the gang brokering the sale of babies.

 Airline lied to avoid paying passenger compensation

Iberia said flight cancellation was due to air space congestion, not engine trouble

By Oliver McIntyre

AFTER a four-year battle, a couple has finally received compensation from Iberia airlines for a cancelled flight that the company blamed on "air space congestion" but that in fact was due to engine trouble, says consumer watchdog Facua.

The group says Iberia lied about the reason for the cancellation in order to avoid paying compensation to the passengers, who were put on another flight six hours later.

Facua says that Iberia flight 1129 from Sevilla to Barcelona on August 19, 2006, "abandoned takeoff due to a problem with one of its engines, which began to emit a strong burning smell," and that the incident was reported in the local press.

The couple filed a complaint with the Public Works Ministry stating that Iberia was falsifying the cause of the cancellation in order to get out of paying passengers the 250-euro compensation required by EU law. 

But the airline reiterated its claim of air space congestion and the ministry's civil aviation authority "accepted the company's excuse without even confirming the data with airport operator AENA," and rejected the couple's claim, says Facua.

When the civil aviation authority issued its ruling in May 2008, the document was "plagued with errors," including a reference to the airline as Spanair, and the attachment of a report issued by Iberia that referred not to the couple in question but to a luggage-related claim from a flight between Vigo and Las Palmas.

EU passes new cross-border healthcare law

The new rules establish patient's right to reimbursement from home country

By Oliver McIntyre

THE European Parliament last week approved a new law setting out patients' rights to seek medical care in another EU country. 

"Patients will no longer be left to their own devices when they seek cross-border healthcare and reimbursement," said French MEP Françoise Grossetête, who led discussions in Parliament.  "This directive will at last clear up patients' rights because until now they have been very vague."

The new legislation, which must be adopted by all member states by 2013, clarifies that EU citizens can be reimbursed for healthcare they receive in another member state, as long as the type of treatment and costs would have normally been covered in their own country.

Patients will need to seek prior authorisation for treatments requiring overnight hospitalisation or specialised healthcare.  However, refusals must be justified according to a restricted list of possible reasons, which includes certain risks to the patient or the general public.

Scrap the train, have a bus lane

The Mancommunidad western Costa del Sol town halls association has brought in an expert to find solutions to the coast's transport problems

By David Eade

IT IS cheaper for some living on the Costa del Sol to fly to London than to hire a taxi to take them to Málaga airport.

Looking into this and other transport problems on the coast is José Luis Cañavate, an expert in urban planning who is producing a report for the western Costa del Sol association of town halls or Mancomunidad de Muncipios de la Costa del Sol Occidental.

One of his proposals could be to scrap the high cost train link which would eventually run all along the coast and instead have a dedicated bus lane on the A7 and AP7 toll motorway. Even if the train line is constructed he says the fast bus lane can operate in the interim or alongside.

His plan would be to allocate a lane exclusively for buses on either or both of the roads so they could move along speedily and not be impeded by other vehicles. In addition the fast moving buses would serve communities that would be by-passed by the train.

If such a scheme was to proceed Cañavate wants the tolls on the AP7 to be removed. He said the motorway was largely used exclusively by businesses as workers could not afford the toll. The booths would be removed so as not to create bottlenecks for the buses as they passed through.