The El Mundo daily newspaper has been running a series of surveys of its readers to find out what they think of various aspects of national life at the end of the first 30 years of democracy. Some of the results have been very damning, but it’s doubtful that the politicians will take much notice of them. Contrary to popular belief, the Spaniards are not indifferent to corruption in high places and know exactly where to place the blame: Socialist politicians, local builders of all political parties and local councils of all political hues. More than 27% said the current Socialist government was more corrupt than the first one under Felipe Gonzalez (24%). Only 14% said the Partido Popular government headed by José María Aznar was corrupt. More than 62% said the politicians were the most corrupt, followed by the judiciary (14.4%) and the media (9%). As for politicians, the most corrupt were those in local government. On the economic front, nearly 60% thought the construction was the most corrupt, followed by the banks (18%). Nearly 80% want to Constitution changed in order to put limits on the nationalist parties while at a local level, the party that gets the most votes should form the local council, doing away with alliances between minority parties. And two thirds of those question said they did not believe that the whole truth about the 2004 Madrid bombings had been told.
The owners of houses in the Los Monteros urbanisation in Marbella have said they will formally accuse the Town Council of peddling political favours if Antonio Banderas’ house there is legalised. The film star’s beach front house was on the list of those to be demolished for building irregularities but will be regularised under the provisionally approved General Urban Plan (PGOU). Apparently Banderas has agreed to pay an unspecified amount in compensation and to relinquish some thousand square metres of garden. The other residents claim that the star – a known supporter of the Socialist regional and national governments – is being given special treatment because of his political affiliation.
Juan Antonio Roca, the alleged brain behind the Malaya and Saqueo 1 corruption cases in Marbella, denied in court last week denied that he had used his own companies to divert public money from the Marbella Town Hall between the years 1991 and 1995. He suggested that someone in the Town Hall had taken advantage of his accounts. When asked why his companies and other assets were in his mother’s name, the former municipal urban planning adviser Roca said he had always used her name “for tax reasons”. Another man charged in the Saqueo case, former legal adviser Jose Luis Sierra, told the court: “Nobody even breathed in Marbella without the express order of Gil”, referring to the late Mayor Jesus Gil y Gil. He added: “If anyone did anything without his permission, even if it was the logical thing to do, they would be looking for a job the next day.”
Former Marbella Mayor JuliAn Muñoz, who was recently granted an open prison regime after being found guilty of real estate irregularities, thought he was onto a good thing when he did a deal to sell his story to the Tele5 TV channel for €350,000. Presenter Ana Rosa Quintana even came down from Madrid last week to record the exclusive in Marbella only to have it cancelled at the last minute after the judge hearing the cases against Munoz instructed the prosecutor to look into the matter for tax purposes.
British police have launched another Operation Captura to track down criminals on the run on the Costa Blanca. In El Campello on the Costa Blanca, Crimestoppers are already putting up posters and handing out beer mats in a second drive to track down unwanted criminals thought to be hiding in Spain. A Crimestoppers’ spokesperson said: “We were blown away by the response to the first Operation Captura two years ago. The expats here really don’t want to have these people living among them and the beauty with Crimestoppers is that it’s totally anonymous so no one will ever know the tip-off came from them.” Of the 30 criminals featured in the first Operation Captura two years ago, 13 are now back in custody, including convicted killer James Hurley, who had been on the run for over a decade. Among the 10 faces on the new list are convicted paedophile Andrew Alderman, 49; drug dealer suspect Adam Hart, 29, on the run after escaping from police; Dean Rice, 47, wanted for kidnap and false imprisonment, and Anthony Kearney, 43, who is accused of extortion, perverting the course of justice and fraud. The full list can be found on the Crimestoppers website, with photographs of each of the wanted criminals and freephone numbers that can be called from both the UK and Spain. The list is prepared by the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) and those on it are subject to European Arrest Warrants. Introduced in 2004, these drastically reduce paperwork and make extradition a matter of weeks, not years. Bill Hughes, director of Soca, has a strong message for those on the run abroad: “These criminals seem to gravitate to warmer climes and think they can sit back and relax and enjoy their money. That’s not the case. We are determined to seize their assets and bring them back to face trial, or be returned to prison, in the proper way.” Information received will be forwarded to Spanish police, who will make the actual arrests. But Soca admits that criminals are already getting the message that Spain is no longer the sunshine sanctuary it once was. They are now turning their attention to other destinations, such as Dubai, to try to evade the ever-lengthening long arm of the law.
During a visit to Malaga last week, Irish Ambassador Peter Gunning Ms Audrey Fitzpatrick, the mother of Amy Fitzpatrick, who was last seen near her home in Calahonda on January 1st this year. The Irish Embassy has offered assistance in the case and there has been regular contact and cooperation between the Irish and Spanish authorities since Amy’s disappearance. Representatives of the Guardia Civil briefed the Ambassador, Ms. Audrey Fitzpatrick and her partner Mr Dave Mahon of everything done so far by the Spanish authorities solve the case.
The so-called fast court hearings were introduced for crimes carrying jail sentences of under five years were introduced five years ago to reduce a back log of cases. That was the theory anyway. But in practice, these fast hearings can take up to three months instead of two weeks as was originally intended. One penal judge in Malaga said that more small courts and personnel were needed to make the scheme work. The average number of fast hearings a day is between 12 and 14 which does not keep up with the number of cases, which has doubled in the past year alone.
The Supreme Court has sent three army officers to jail for abusing their authority during enemy capture practices when they treated the soldier selected to play the role of enemy prisoner in a “degrading and inhuman” way. The incidents took place in October 2000 on Cabron Beach in the Canary islands. Among other things, the soldier was forced to eat piping hot food while blindfolded and also had cleaning liquid thrown at him. The men had been absolved of the charges by a military court but they will now serve sentences of five, four and three months and will also have to pay an indemnity of €75,000 to the soldier. The men were only identified by the their rank and first names.
Police have detected an increase in so-called “hunger thefts” as the current economic crisis hits consumers’ pockets. Several thieves were caught last week: one was sailing off on his motorbike until police stopped him to find out why his legs were so swollen. He had a leg of Serrano ham hammed down each trouser leg. Another thief had managed to stuff 12 bottles of olive oil down his trousers, while one man waltzed away with a tray full of York ham and cheese. The saddest tale was of two young men who were caught stealing a few sweets from a kiosk. Police said they expected such hunger thefts to continue to rise.
The Guardia Civil has detected a sharp increase in illegal marijuana plantations throughout Malaga province. They are called plantations but in fact many consist of a few plants in pots on the patio for personal use only. Last week, the Guardia seized 110 plants in Alhaurin el Grande and El Chorro which would have yielded some 60 kilos of marijuana. A spokesman said home growers were getting more sophisticated and offering their customers a variety of marijuana leaves. It’s a small but profitable business. All the grower needs is a well-lit place to put the pots and a dryer. If the plants are not visible from the street, the grower can reap his illicit crop for years without any hassle from the police.
An 18-year-old Moroccan schoolboy was jailed last week for insulting King Mohamed IV, after replacing the monarch’s name with that of his favourite football club. He altered the phrase “God, The Nation, The King” on the school blackboard to read “God, The Nation, Barcelona”. FC Barcelona says it has appointed a lawyer to look into whether they can help the boy, within the framework of Moroccan law. The family of the boy, Yassine Belassal, is appealing against the ruling, and his father intends to write a letter to the King asking for a royal pardon. An internet campaign is also under way to have Mr Belassel freed. Earlier this year one man received a three-year sentence for creating a mock Facebook profile of the King’s brother, before receiving a royal pardon. Last month, another man was jailed after suggesting that some royal practices did not help the development of the country. He was cleared on appeal following a media outcry.
The government announced last week that descendants of Spaniards who left the country for fear of political persecution between 1936 and 1955 will now be able to apply for nationality before 2011. The decision will affect an estimated 500,000 children and grandchildren seeking to return. That number is believed to include 300,000 people in Argentina alone. The measure is part of Historical Memory law passed last year that aims to compensate and rehabilitate victims of the 1936-1939 Civil War. Elderly former members of the International Brigades, the collection of anti-fascists who travelled to Spain to fight Gen Franco’s forces, will also be eligible for citizenship under the new law, without giving up their original nationality as was required in the past.
Police have arrested the man who bought the mobile phone that was used to warn the authorities of the car bomb that exploded in the University of Navarra car park in Pamplona last Thursday morning. Local officials said the warning had been vague and Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said the Basque terrorist group ETA had obviously intended to cause a blood bath. However, no-one was killed, and only 15 people were injured, even though the bomb went off near the library which was full of students at the time. It was the sixth time ETA had been targeted the University. Two days earlier, police had arrested four suspected ETA members – three of them in Pamplona. Guns and a large quantity of explosives were also seized in the raids. The Navarra region is separate from the Basque Country, but nationalists argue that it should also form part of an independent Basque homeland.
A National Court judge has absolved 16 Catalan youths charged with insulting the Crown after burning photos of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia at a protest in Barcelona earlier this year. Prosecutor Javier Zaragoza had asked for them to be fined €3,600 each but judge Jose Maria Vazquez Honrubia threw out the case, saying the youths were guilty of disorderly conduct but not of slander.
Mijas Mayor Antonio Sanchez was forced to call in the Local Police to remove members of the Association for the Regularisation of Irregular Buildings who protesting outside the Town Hall during a council meeting last Thursday morning. Some 8,000 families are affected by the Mijas council’s plans to demolish illegal constructions or impose hefty fines their owners. It was just another incident in the increasingly confusing scenario surrounding illegal properties. While Mijas and other councils are threatening demolition, Marbella Mayor Angeles Muñoz said two weeks ago she would do everything possible to regularise all illegal properties, and in the interior it seems the local councils are beginning to get tough as well. At least two illegal home-owners in the Coin-Monda area are facing fines of just over €100,000. One of them said he had received notification from the regional tax collection office that he had to pay the fine by November 5th. Failure to do so would mean an added bill the following day for interest on that amount, which should have been paid three years ago. The property will be embargoed the same day and if the fine is not paid within six to eight nine months, it will be put up for auction. But there’s a catch. Not being legal, in the eyes of the law the building does not exist, therefore only the land will be auctioned. The owner said he does not have that amount of money in the bank here and even if he had it in his account in England he would not be able to get it transferred in time. Given the amount involved, the transaction would have to be made through the Bank of Spain and he would have to present a document explaining why he wanted the money. All that takes time, the owner said, adding that even if he abandoned the property and left the country, the Spanish authorities could still catch up with him further down the line. The worst thing of all is that he knows that all this could have been avoided if he had taken a friend’s advice and tried to sort out his property’s papers while there was still time.
Helen Thirlway, UK Director of the International Primate Protection League, has strongly condemned the Gibraltar government’s culling of around ten of the world-famous “Barbary apes”, even though her organisation and a coalition of animal welfare and conservation groups had found somewhere to relocate them. The groups had been working beghind the scenes to save the apes since April, when the government announced plans to cull around 25 of them. The groups had succeeded in finding a home for the condemned primates back in May and were still discussing the terms of a relocation plan with the Gibraltar government when the killings allegedly took place. Ms Thirlway said: “The government assured us that they were culling because they could not relocate. We found a home for the monkeys, and offered our assistance in moving them, and now we have been informed by a reliable source that half of the group have been culled anyway. We can only assume that the motivation for this unethical decision was a financial one; we can find no other explanation and all we have had from the government is a damning silence on the matter.” She added: “We urge the people of Gibraltar to demand that culling stops once and for all. The authorities know exactly what needs to be done; they need to employ wardens, enforce the feeding ban, cover rubbish sites, and invest in a more comprehensive contraception programme. So why do they not simply do so? Is this really about looking after the people of Gibraltar, or is it simply about protecting the interests of a few wealthy property developers?”
A thief died in a shoot-out in a supermarket in the Nervion area of Sevilla last Friday night after he and his accomplice were surprised by a 54-year-old off-duty police commissioner who happened to be in the store. Witnesses said the two robbers arrived on a moped which they left with the engine running outside the store. The commissioner was shopping inside with his wife and daughter, and realising that a robbery was underway, tried to intervene. When he made his presence known , the men took out their weapons and started firing. One thief was shot twice and died in the act, while the other made his escape. The police commissioner was injured in the groin.
Mijas resident Isabel called on the Town Hall last Thursday to knock down her house and stop fining her. Sra Mart�n, 56, and her husband began building their house four years ago in the La Rosa urbanisation in La Cala but the Town Hall paralysed the work because of town planning irregularities. Accompanied by Antonio Blanco, president of the Association for the Regularisation of Housing in Mijas, Sra Martin told a press conference that her husband had then gone into a deep depression and died a few months ago. She said: “My husband lost the will to live, his dream had died.” Her lawyer had written to the Town Hall on July 11th asking them to demolish the house but had not received a reply. Sra Martin said she had received three fines – the last one on October 3rd – of €2,356 for a house measuring 288 m2 when in fact the building only measured 100 m2. She said it was “not even a house, just a structure”. She added: “If they are going to demolish it, then they should do it now and stop fining me because my health is not good and I’m going down the same road as my husband.” Antonio Blanco compared the situation to Marbella where the mayor has announced that she will fight to ensure that not a single illegally-built property is knocked down.
Malaga City Hall have been ordered to pay a compensation of €3,000 to a couple after police stopped the bride, Ana Belen Quires, from arriving at the church in time for her wedding three years ago. She was in a horse-drawn carriage and the police objected to her using a pedestrian-only street, even though she had a municipal permission to do so. She made her way on foot to the Iglesia de Sagrado Corazon, almost a kilometre away, where she arrived in tears. Ana Belen and her husband, Juan Jose Rivas, said they will use the money to take a trip to “forget their wedding day”.
The so-called “magic coin” swindle has arrived in Malaga. Las week, police arrested a man in an arcade in the centre of the capital with 400 normal euro coins and 186 painted black. One-armed bandits can’t detected the painted coins, and the swindle consists of inserting a number of these coins then pressing the Return button without playing. The machine automatically returns the same number of normal coins and the player continues to introduce painted coins and retrieve normal ones until the machine starts spitting out painted ones. The swindle appears to come from the East. Police in the rest of the country have so far arrested several Chinese but the man arrested in Malaga was a Turk.