Friday, February 29, 2008

 

La Vieja


We have a local fiesta in late February called 'el Día de la Vieja Remolona'. It's kind of a jolly picnic in the countryside with a piñata full of sweeties (representing an old woman) which the children attack with sticks.

Here's a picture from Pepe Obradors of the aftermath.

 

Here be Monsters...

There is one thing that we are all to find out – sooner or later – when living in Spain. There are lots of rip-offs. Beyond paying a bit too much for a coffee, or an extra euro fifty surcharge for a brick of orange juice at the gas station, the main cons and scams are usually something to do with our ‘fellow foreigners’.
It’s so easy. ‘Hello, are you English? Me too! I speak the lingo and can show you around…’ Blah, blah.
I have been helping to distribute a magazine locally called ‘The Costa del Sol Action Group Magazine’ with its ‘Sharks Exposed’ cover. The magazine was started by a few people from down Marbella way who were ripped off some years ago by conmen calling themselves ‘financial advisers’. You sometimes see them advertising in the free press.
My favourite from the early nineties was the ostrich farms scam where you bought an ostrich for 48,000 pounds and waited for the eggs to hatch. I asked the Madrid Zoo at the time as to the going rate and was told that a pair of ostriches would cost around 600 pounds. Some people lost their shirt.
But gained some feathers.
If the reward sounds too good, then it probably is a con. Fairly obvious stuff perhaps, but the salesman seemed so nice, so sure and after all – you have to stick with your own; watch out for those Spaniards – they’ll skin you alive! Quite!

The magazine touches on some (but not all) of the Costa’s best-known financial fraudsters. That it can do so is because the editors have the appropriate proof – usually letters from the government’s financial watchdog, the CNMV – together with letters and complaints from local (often British) residents. Of course, it’s hard to sue here in Spain (takes years), is harder still when it's foreigner against foreigner (takes more years), is expensive as hell and is largely useless anyway.
As an example of the last piece. Mike Metcalf – now known as Michael Home of Royal Marbella Estates – operated a company called Eurosol back in the mid eighties in Mojácar. He would sell houses and neglect to pass on the deeds. In one case, he sold a house to John G in around 1987, and sold the escritura to someone else called Helen. I knew John and since he didn’t speak Spanish, I helped him over the years. Firstly, I found that John, Metcalf and Helen were all using the same lawyer! Then, after a long struggle to take the case to court, John G finally won his case against Metcalf in 1998 and was awarded his costs (around 48,000 euros) in an Almerian court, albeit losing the title to the house while gaining life-possession, and saw his wife die from the strain. Metcalf – who got a six month suspended sentence – has yet to pay John a penny of the money he was ordered to hand over.
So much for Spanish justice.
Cases rarely get as far as this. One must consider the time and the expense, plus the option of the scammer making a ‘quick departure’.
Lawyers aren’t allowed to do a ‘no win - no fee’ deal (of course, they sometimes do).
If you are being robbed by a non-Spaniard, and if things start to look bad for them, they can always 'do a runner'.
‘Scairdy Paints’, the major second-hand car dealer, scarpered a few weeks ago. A well-known local estate agent looks about ready to do the same thing. Rumour has it that he is actually going to Brazil!
It is indeed curious that there aren’t more whistle-blowers about. Especially now with the Internet. Most ‘forums’ won’t touch the subject of libel for fear of being sued. They don't need the hassle. On the other hand, try suing from Spain an Internet provider, with a Korean address…!
One such property forum, having presumably received various threats, has a famous ‘sticky’ which reads ‘All discussion of MacAnthony Realty International (MRI) is strictly forbidden in this forum. Posts that do not even mention the company by name, but refer to it in some other way, are also forbidden, and will be removed’. (Spanish Property Insite)

The Costa Action magazine deals in this edition with (some issues which have since been resolved 28 feb 2010), Donald Nott, unlicenced financial advisors and the truly awful ‘asset release’ scam which is doing the rounds and preys on the elderly and so on. There is some small reference to property companies – such as Palmera Properties – but as I was distributing copies in Albox saying something like ‘it’s a magazine about financial fraud’, one Englishman took a copy and answered ‘they should have a go at the estate agents’.
Many large estate agents are indeed in trouble. Viva Estates has closed all but one office. It is one of several companies that fly you out, escort you around, sell you something hot and take anything up to a 25% commission. You may have seen their cars.
The British Home Office (Ministerio del Interior) actually got involved in one case, a company called Oasis Properties had been scamming so many people that the Home Office asked the Spanish police to arrest the owner of the company and sling her in jail. In 2004, Audrey Dixon was incarcerated in Malaga for fraud. However, you can't rely on the British authorities taking an interest in your case. They won't.
Spain is currently in the shit for its 'land grab', its expropriations, its demolitions, rule-changes, land reform, illegal urbanisations and so on. The Spanish seem largely unaware of this self-damage. Unfortunately, no one will bail out the unfortunate victims. They are toast.

You can see the magazine on http://www.costa-action.co.uk/

Some other groups can help. Those that commit fraud don't like the light, and naturally the British press is always interested in writing up the 'dangers' of Spain...
Also very useful are Abusos Urbanisticos - NO , the Spanish Property Scandal Petition , Illegal Villas Spain , Corruption in Spain and of course, you can cheer yourself up with the famous detective Larry Kovaks P.I. at http://kovakspi.blogspot.com/.
The Comisión Nacional de Mercado de Valores, which lists unauthorised financial advisers in Spain, is at http://www.cnmv.es/ .

Edited. Feb 28 2010


Thursday, February 21, 2008

 

Nice Election - (but all I got was a lousy tee shirt)

There are elections in the air – the American ones which appear to take a year to resolve (or longer if they can’t agree on those Florida ‘chads’) and the Spanish ones, which essentially take a couple of weeks. Now, we all know and argue about Hillary, about Obama and perhaps even the Republican John McCain – who at his age ought to be staying home with his grand-children; but – hands up who is keeping up with the Spanish contests for both prime minister and, nearer to home, supreme Poo Bah of Andalucía?
I would suggest that, apart from starting the odd war which the Americans are so good at, the Spanish elections are far more important to us and our future. Nationally, we have President Rodríguez Zapatero weighing in for another round, against the apparently unsure Mariano Rajoy, he of the scruffy beard and delicate manners. That is, the socialist PSOE (plus the usual expensive ragbag of hangers on) against the PP, the conservatives. In Andalucía it’s Manuel Chaves versus Javier Arenas. Both contests have been played before and last time, the PSOE took all the laurels.
Apart from the posters, the free lighters and the logo-bearing caps, will it make any difference to us as to who wins?
Have you seen those tee shirts that read ‘Adióz’? The joke is, of course, that they refer to Zapatero, who has managed to create a culture of ‘Z’. Not just because of his name, I say, because his policies have pretty much been a ‘Z’ as well, from his ‘culture of civilizations’, his pandering to the future independent states of Catalonia, Euskadi and Galicia, to his managing to put half the country at the throats of the other half. Adiós, meaning, of course, ‘goo-bye and thanks for all the fish’.
Did you catch the pro-Zap video made by the country’s pop stars and actors who all put themselves behind the PSOE (‘no probs, mate, as long as the cheque’s good’)?
But I shan’t be wearing the tee shirt or watching the video. It might be misconstrued by those who are allowed to vote.
I feel like something out of the cartoon of the two missionaries in the pot with the tag-line ‘I say, Carruthers, the natives are restless tonight’. I may have lived here for a long time and move more-or-less in Spanish circles (as far as one can in an area like this), but I must occasionally be reminded that I am a foreigner, and there is no time like elections for that.
While the natives are getting decidedly restless, we can only watch. But what comes from these elections, both nationally and regionally, will have a large impact on our lives. We live in interesting times yet there is little we can do beyond watching uncomfortably from the cooking pot.
‘But’, says someone over a vino, ‘you can take out Spanish nationality’. True enough, but what I would like to do is to have ‘European’ nationality. First Class. A Texan doesn’t have to become a Californian to vote in Los Angeles.
What… the Yanks are more democratic than the Europeans?
Our concerns are local but the decisions about our area are made elsewhere – and apparently with no interest or concession towards the foreign residents that have pretty much made this area what it is. Of course we should participate in the bloody elections!
We are concerned about the demolition in Vera and the many other homes which are threatened. We are worried about the plan to send water from Carboneras to Barcelona (at least, my rose-garden is decidedly agitated) and we are worried about the insane plan to build a gigantic city on our doorstep – which, give or take, the local English-language press has been rather quiet about.
So, as Chaves sweeps his way to another victory in Andalucía - guaranteeing another four years of gloom for the region, and Zap and Mariano fight it out in Madrid, it becomes increasingly apparent that our small corner of enchantment is just a plaything for the powerful.


By the way, there are 144,000 Andaluces who are residents abroad and yet can vote in the Andalucian elections!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

 

The Second Mojácar POTALA Meeting

The second meeting was held tonight, Wednesday, in the hotel Continental. The meeting was in English and chaired by Albert Schroter with the mayoress Rosa María Cano and the vice-mayor Angel Medina. The subject was covered as before with about seventy people in attendance, including Len and Helen Prior. Albert spoke of the need for integration and the importance of the European community locally.
The map, just showing the Mojácar and Turre area, is above. Just below the green swathe (the river) and to the left of the star is the pueblo of Mojácar (just below the green bend). Small! Further to the left you can see Turre (with a dotted line and arrow around it). The large gray spot to the bottom right is Macenas. Garrucha is on the coast, in gray with another star on it. The very large yellow area to the top, backing on to Garrucha, is the proposed new city - proposed, that is, by the Junta de Andalucía without any recourse to local opinion. This new city will cover 55 square kilometres and could house anything up to 100,000 people, or more. The blue line dropping through it and heading left is the route of the AVE high speed train. There will be a train station somewhere within this new conurbation. Albert wondered why this area should be urbanised and, since the Junta de Andalucía would hardly be building fifty hotels on its own, who exactly was behind this plan.
Of course, said the mayoress, instead of investing in badly needed local infrastructure, like pavements, water, cleaning, police and so on - a hospital or some other major investment in our community - the Junta's plan was to put all of their efforts into this new 'city' and essentially 'starve' Mojácar of much needed income. Oddly enough, said Albert, the POTA (the master plan for Andalucía of which the POTALA is but a local part) precluded building new urban nucleuses. This indeed was the 'reason' for demolishing the Prior's home in January.
After the meeting, people were asked to sign a protest.




Thursday, February 07, 2008

 

POTALA Blues



The POTALA - the Plan de Ordenación Territorial del Area del Levante Almeriense, the Junta de Andalucía-driven plan for our future, was the subject of a meeting today at the Centro de Artesanía in Mojácar. The POTALA, and what the town hall is planning to offer to the Junta next week in its disagreement. The table shows, from the left, Angel Medina, Diego Flores, the mayoress Rosa María Cano, the town architect Rodrigo and Carlos Cervantes.

Essentially the POTALA is a plan by the Junta de Andalucía to build a giant city to tack onto the back of Garrucha and to stretch, to the north of the Garrucha/Turre/Los Gallardos road as far as Antas: an extension of 55 square kilometres. Of this, half will be parks and green belt, and the remainer will be 30% homes, 30% hotels (fifty of them to compete with those already in operation locally) and 40% industrial, shops and leasure. What will happen to the owners of this land? Who knows as yet. Perhaps 'land-grab' (where they take half your land and charge you urbanising costs for the remainder). Very wonderful for those who bought here to get away from it all...

Now, the ayuntamiento, together with the other ten town halls that make up the 'mancomunidad', can't do much about this. It was barely mentioned. What the town hall was concerned about is the rest of the package. Essentially, the Junta has taken away Mojácar's right to plan its own future growth. Most of the rest of Mojácar (some of it is in this new 'city') will be green-belt. The sea to have 200 metres protection, a vast 'parque' from La Mata, running below and beyond the pueblo, along the south side of the river-bed, to Turre and beyond, the side above the 'Parata ring-road' all to be protected. In all, of Mojácar's 72 sq kilometres of extension, just 3% will be urbanisable. Ever.

All of this, times eleven (the eleven towns of the Mancomunidad), will be discussed for the final time with the representative of the Junta de Andalucía, in Huercal Overa on Friday 15th of February - although apparently the goon from the Junta can only spare half an hour...!

Next Wednesday, Councillor Albert Schroter has called for a meeting to explain this in detail in English at the Hotel Continental on Mojácar playa at 8.30pm.


Saturday, February 02, 2008

 

Tell me about Democracy

It was a few years ago now when the Algerian elections were won by a group of fundamentalist Muslims called the FIS. The Algerian government was shocked that these hardliners could have won the elections and immediately vetoed the result. In this, they were supported by NATO and other organisations and governments. Good thing perhaps?
In Spain, two radical communist nationalist parties in the Basque Country, who support ETA’s vile activities, are on the brink of being declared illegal, following the road taken by the Batasuna party.
In Europe, now validated by the new European Treaty (the old European Constitution under another name), displaced Europeans cannot vote in the regional or national elections of their country of residence. Or in national referenda. In Spain, there are a million of us: disenfranchised by Brussels.
Also in Spain, the Constitutional court has confirmed the Government’s ruling to put quotas in all political party-lists, with 40% minimum of any one sex. It’s called the law of Equality. Luckily, thanks to the same government, one can now change one's sex legally without having to drop by the doctor's.
Democracy – one man one vote?

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