Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Venezuela arrests Colombian drug kingpin


The arrest of Maximiliano Bonilla-Orozco at his home in Venezuela's third largest city of Valencia on Sunday was announced, perhaps not coincidentally, during a visit by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. After a five-hour meeting at the presidential palace, Santos thanked Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez for the "welcome gift" of capturing "a very high-value" drug trafficker "who has caused terrible damage to our country." Venezuelan Interior Minister Tarek El Aissami said Bonilla-Orozco, 39, would be extradited to the United States, where he was charged with drug trafficking in a 2008 indictment in a New York court. The United States accuses Bonilla-Orozco of trafficking several tons of cocaine from Colombia to the United States, and transporting more than $25 million in drug-related proceeds from the United States to Mexico. "Maximiliano Bonilla-Orozco is the leader of an extensive transnational narcotics exportation and transportation organisation that distributes thousands of kilograms of cocaine from Colombia, through Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, to the United States," a US State Department profile says.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Police probe Gold Coast shooting

Police say a man shot at Robina on Queensland's Gold Coast had links to an outlaw motorcycle gang. A man fired several shots outside a house at Robina about 10:00pm (AEST) on Saturday night, injuring a 25-year-old man. The man was shot in the shoulder and is in the Gold Coast Hospital. Police say his injuries are not life-threatening. Detective Superintendent Dave Hutchinson says police are still searching for the assailant. He says some of the bullets struck cars and houses. "[The offender] was targeting a particular person, and that person received some injuries from the those gun pellets," he said. "The information we have from witnesses is that there were a number of shots fired. "The victim has an association with an outlaw motorcycle group but he's not a member himself. "At this stage, we're not able to say if it's bikie-related or if it's a personal issue." Police have already interviewed a number of witnesses but no-one has been arrested over the shooting. Detective Superintendent Hutchinson says the injured man, who is an associate of the Bandidos motorcycle gang, is cooperating with police but cannot remember much about the incident.

SCOTLAND'S failure to tackle the scandal of sex trafficking is exposed in a damning report today.

Prostitute large pic


The report demands a crackdown on the organised crime gangs behind the vile trade and lifts the lid on how the victims of trafficking and exploitation have been let down.

Leading human rights lawyer Baroness Helena Kennedy, who wrote the report for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, is critical of the Scottish government, the police and other law enforcement agencies.

The report looks into all aspects of human trafficking but focuses explicitly on "commercial sexual exploitation".

A source close to the inquiry said last night: "This is Scotland's dirty little secret."

The report criticises the shortfall in public or professional awareness in Scotland of human trafficking and says police have a "significant" intelligence gap on the problem.

It reveals those who are trafficked are being exploited by organised criminals, often held captive in private flats used as brothels and systematically abused.

Other victims are forced into criminal acts such as benefits fraud or cannabis cultivation, exploited on fruit-picking farms or in the hospitality industry or forced into conditions akin to slavery as domestic servants.

The report's 10 recommendations include the establishment of a task force to take on the gangs behind the misery.

And it also calls for laws to be beefed up to punish the criminals heavily when they are caught.

The source said: "The Scottish government and police have not taken the proper steps to combat human trafficking. The problem exists all over Scotland and is not confined to the sex industry.

"People are being shipped in from all over the world to be used as cheap labour and serious gangsters are behind it.

"We've had prostitutes coming from as far away as Brazil, Nigeria and Bolivia to work in Scottish cities and police don't do anything.

"The recommendations made in the report need to be followed up urgently."

The inquiry's findings and mmendations are based recommendations on written evidence and face-to-face interviews and include statements from victims of trafficking.

Glasgow-born Baroness Kennedy described the nature and extent of human trafficking in Scotland as "a human rights abuse of terrible consequences".

She said: "Human trafficking is one of those pressing contemporary issues which speaks to the societies nature of our societies. It tests the value we attach to the humanity of others.

"That is why it is so important to develop effective strategies to combat trafficking. It speaks to who we are as a people. Confronting it involves collaboration."

She added: "I am hoping Scotland will pioneer a zerotolerance approach, leading the way with new strategies, legislation, and the kinds of multi-agency cooperation that enables the punishment of the traffickers and the identification and recovery of the victims."

Last month, in the first case of its kind in Scotland, Stephen Craig, 34, from Clydebank, was jailed for three years and four months for controlling prostitutes.

His co-accused, Sarah Beukan, 22, from Leith in Edinburgh, was jailed for 18 months.

They were the first people to be convicted in Scotland under new laws covering trafficking within the UK.

The pair admitted moving 14 people to addresses in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Belfast, Cardiff and Newcastle to work as prostitutes.

Equality and Human Rights Scotland Commissioner Kaliani Lyle said: "Trafficking is one of the most severe human rights abuses in the modern world.

"It operates below the radar and is kept there through fear and deception. Our challenge is to rid Scotland of this modern slavery."

Ann Fehilly, of the Glasgow Community and Safety Services TARA Project, said: "If we are able to ensure that protections are in place, then more prosecutions will follow, ensuring that Scotland sends a message to those who traffic and exploit vulnerable women that such abuses will not be tolerated."

Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill said: "The Scottish government welcome this inquiry and the extensive work Baroness Kennedy has undertaken to expose the unacceptable and atrocious practices which allow human trafficking to persist."

He added: "Trafficking is a particularly horrific and brutal violation of human rights. It has no place in modern Scotland and the consequences it brings for victims and communities are incredibly damaging."

Case Study: Evil deeds exposed in Record

stephen craig taggart Image 2

THE Daily Record has shone a light on Scotland's seedy underbelly, with senior reporter Annie Brown interviewing victims and those working to beat trafficking.

Last month, Annie met former vice girl Susan, 36, who worked out of flats run by Scotland's only convicted sex traffickers Stephen Craig and Sarah Beukan.

The mum-of-three told how one woman worked for Craig when she was six months pregnant and another was traumatised after having sex with 12 men in a row.

And sadistic Craig threatened to pour boiling water down one woman's throat if she moved on.

Annie also met Ann Hamilton, who established the Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance (TARA) in 2005 to help identify and support women in Glasgow who had been sex trafficked.

Ann said: "We saw there were a lot of foreign women in prostitution in Glasgow and the Met Police in London were warning us about trafficking.

"We had never heard the term but very soon we realised we had an issue and we had to establish a service for the women and I think it has worked very well."

Key Points

1 Scotland needs a comprehensive strategy against trafficking.Recommendation: Scottish government should develop strategic plan.

2 There is little public or professional awareness of human trafficking or its indicators. Recommendation: Holyrood should run an anti-trafficking campaign.

3 Human Scotland and in the UK has developed in a piecemeal fashion.Recommendation: Holyrood should consider introducing comprehensive Human Trafficking Bill.

4 Police service has a significant intelligence gap on human trafficking.Recommendation: Set up multi-agency task force.

5 There have been few prosecutions against suspected traffickers.Recommendation: Review legislation to consider tougher sentences where human trafficking is background to crimes.

6 Law enforcement bodies have disrupted organised crime through asset recovery but there have been few operations against traffickers.Recommendation: Develop strategy for using asset recovery powers against trafficking groups.

7 Recommendation: Scottish and UK governments to help various agencies, such as employers, bring awareness of human trafficking into their operations.

8 Recommendation: Holyrood involve private sector in strategic approach in dealing with awareness and monitoring of trafficking.

9 Recommendation: Home Office should lead review of system for identifying trafficking victims.

10 Scotland does not yet have comprehensive, end-to-end services for victims of human trafficking. Recommendation: Holyrood should develop a trafficking care standard.

Marvel character, Erik Lensherr a.k.a. Magneto, has apparently infringed the copyright of the King of Spain

Marvel character, Erik Lensherr a.k.a. Magneto, has apparently infringed the copyright of the King of Spain in Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, with the Zarzuela Palace claiming the X-Men villain's alternate costume is identical to the military uniform worn by King Juan Carlos.

Representitives for the Zazuela Palace have contacted the Spanish distributor of the game in the region, Koch Media, to warn them of possible copyright infringement.

This isn't the first time the Spanish Royal's has stamped their feet over the strong resemblences, as Marvel faced a similar dispute when Magneto first donned the uniform in The Pulse: House of M Special X-Men special.

New ecstasy fears after two dead and one seriously ill following club weekend


The clubbers, aged 20 and 21, died within hours of each other at the same hospital after attending separate dance music events at Alexandra Palace in north London over the weekend. Another 20-year-old man, also thought to have attended an event at the venue, is also being treated at the same hospital where he is said to be in a serious but stable condition. Last night Scotland Yard issued a special appeal to any young people who may have taken drugs at or before either of the events to seek immediate medical attention amid fears dealers may have been peddling an ultra-strong batch. It comes just a week after the charity Drugscope, which monitors trends in underground the drug trade, warned of an alarming rise in the popularity of ecstasy which dominated the 1990s rave scene but fell out of fashion. A surge in use follows an influx of a more-potent Chinese variants of the drug which is based on the chemical MDMA, or methylenedioxymethamphetamine.

Ecstasy alert after club deaths


wo young clubbers suspected of taking ecstasy died after separate dance music events at London's Alexandra Palace, police said. The men, aged 20 and 21, were admitted to a north London hospital on Sunday and were pronounced dead within seven hours of each other. The 21-year-old is thought to have attended an all-night party called Bass Culture, which started on Friday and continued into Saturday. The 20-year-old is believed to have attended a night called Epic, starting on Saturday night and running into Sunday. A second 20-year-old man who was also believed to have attended the event on Saturday night was admitted to hospital as well and remains in a serious but stable condition. The Metropolitan Police said the cause of the deaths and injury was yet to be established but confirmed that one line of inquiry was that the men may have taken illegal substances, possibly MDMA - the chemical name for ecstasy. They issued an urgent appeal for other clubbers to seek medical attention following the unexplained deaths. Detective Inspector Rita Tierney said: "Although it is too early to say what caused these men's health to deteriorate, we are investigating the possibility that illegal drugs may have been involved. "If you have taken what you believed to be MDMA, or any other substance, during this weekend's events at Alexandra Palace, and are now feeling unwell, I would strongly urge you to attend your nearest hospital as soon as possible."

Sunday, 20 November 2011

U.K. tax falls on overseas property investors


Overseas property owners based in the UK are about to be targeted by a new HM Revenue & Customs "affluent unit", which has been set up by the British government to address what it sees as tax avoidance by the rich.Photo 20minutos.es What next I wonder?? A new team of 200 taxation investigators and specialists has been established by HMRC to identify wealthy individuals who, amongst other things, own land and property abroad … such as a holiday home. OPP understands that the tax attack unit will concentrate on overseas property assets first, and then switch its attention to UK-based commodity traders (who have been accused of helping to drive up food prices,) before looking into the number of UK residents who hold offshore investment accounts. HMRC says that it will be using sophisticated "data mining" techniques to try and track down people who own overseas properties, but do not pay the right amount of tax. This might include someone who owns a villa in Spain which they are renting out, or an individual who owns a piece of land in France that is being used as business premises, said an HMRC spokesman. The experts will be looking for people who do not seem to be declaring the correct income and gains. The new unit, which has been announced by the UK’s Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, will focus solely on people paying the 50% top tax rate. David Gauke, the exchequer secretary to the Treasury, said there would be "no hiding place" for tax cheats, adding that the UK government “is committed to tackling tax evasion and avoidance across all areas of the economy. That is why we allocated HMRC £917m to reduce the tax gap over the next four years. This new team is part of that investment." Ronnie Ludwig, tax partner at accountancy group Saffery Champness told OPP that “those who have been letting out their foreign property and declaring the rents received have nothing to fear, but those who own foreign property which has never been let out should be prepared to prove to HMRC that they have received no income from the property.” “This will involve producing UK and foreign bank statements and being able to demonstrate that they could afford to purchase and maintain the property out of normal declared sources."

Toxic Smoke fills Hotel Senator in Marbella


On Friday the 18th November 2011 our family with a 3 year old toddler and a 15 month old baby checked into the SENATOR Hotel in Marbella for a one night stay. We knew that the Hotel SENATOR had only recently opened and indeed everything seemed brand new and glitzy. After the usual check in fomalities we finally got to our room on the 4th floor which was OK in every respect other than perhaps being a little on the small side. After returning from dinner we immediately went to sleep as we were very tired. At probably between 3 and 4 am I woke up and I thought there was a bad smell in the room. At first I gave it no further attention and went back to sleep only to wake up again and now identifying the smell you get when you turn on an electric heater that has gathered dust. Both my wife and children were completely asleep. As the smell got worse and now clearly was no longer a smell but serious toxic smoke that started to fill the room I woke my wife and she immediately realised that this was smoke from a fire. Then our baby started to cough very badly. I immediately opened our balcony door and to my amazement saw three fire engines and at least three police cars on the front side of the building with firemen entering the Hotel. At this moment images of flames coming out from the balconies entered my head. However only smoke could be seen everywhere. We immediately put on some clothes grabbed essentials and run out of the room only to find that in the hallway smoke was pouring from what seemed to be a fire sprinkler. Another couple opened the safety exit door to the escape staircase and there we found that the smoke was much less apparent. So we went down into the reception which was smoke filled and out into the road. Heavy smoke came out from a basement access into the road. Another guest told us that apparently the fire had started in the newly opened Sauna. By now more guests had decided to leave the hotel for the safety of the street and we were all huddling about in the cold expecting some news about what was going to happen to us. The manager of the Hotel could be seen on top of the Hotel stairs smoking a cigarette. Eventually we requested some explanation and information about the situation as obviously everybody was tired and did not want to remain in the street for ever. The Manager almost casually said that the fire had been put out and that everybody could go back to the rooms as it was now only a simple matter of getting rid of the smoke which he estimated would take about an hour. I made it clear to the manager that both our 3 year old toddler and our baby could not go back into a room where smoke would still be present for at least an hour. He agreed but provided no alternative. So I asked him whether it was safe to retrieve our car from the garage which he said it was and we left. The following questions need answering both by SENATOR Hotels Group and by the local authorities: 1. Why was there no alarm? We might not have woken up perhaps never because as is well known most people do not die from fire but from the toxic smoke it produces. My wife and my children in particular our baby and 3 year old were fast asleep in our smoke filled room. The fact that there was no alarm which was queried by other guests surely implies that either there was a serious breach of procedure or an inadequate safety system in the Hotel. Fire and smoke procedures are subject to extremely serious inspections by the local authorities in all countries. In fact a hotel normally cannot open or will be closed down if any of these procedures are inadequate, faulty or non existent. 2. There were communications over loudspeakers outside the hotel. We could not hear the words spoken on the 4th floor and it seemed that this was more of communications between the police and the firemen. Apart from that we assume that the communications were in spanish and therefore could not be understood by the foreign guests in any case. There seemed to be no call to evacuate the hotel as some guests were still waving from their hotel balconies. 3. That the guests were told to go back ot their rooms even though smoke was still pouring out and would be for at least one hour also indicates a complete lack of understanding of the serious health risks of smoke particularly to children. 4. Nobody gave any explanations or assistance to the guests which included many children. We were all required to stand in the cold of the street for over one hour. You would have thought that a Hotel would have a program in force for such an event including a reciprocal arrangement with another close by hotel for the guests to be able to wait in the reception and be able to use the toilets and get some refreshments in particular for the children. 5. To clear the dining room of thick smoke an industrial fan was brought to the door to literally blow the smoke out of the windows. 6. The penultimate safety question must be: why would a fire in the sauna of the wellness centre of the SENATOR Hotel produce smoke that pours out of every ventilation and airconditioning outlet right up to the top of the hotel? 7. The ultimate safety question must be: why does the SENATOR Hotel in Marbella have no smoke alarms? We are concerned about the possible longterm effects on the health of our children. When cleaning our noses we were worried to notice that our tissues were black. How much of this has gone into our baby's and toddler's lungs? What is the toxic composition of this smoke? We are waiting to hear from the SENATOR Hotel group as to compensation for our nightmare and what they will do to prevent this ever from happening again.

British woman falls off hotel balcony when having sex


There has been another case of balconing in Spain, this time in Adeje, Tenerife, and with the twist that the victim was having sex with her husband at the time she fell. The British tourist who fell several metres then got her ankle caught between the bars of an internal staircase was left hanging there, head down and totally naked until the emergency crews arrived. 49 year old A.M.A.M. had been having sex with her husband against the railings on one of the public areas of the hotel and in the frenzy, the railings gave way. The husband called the emergency services and the local and national police arrived with a fire crew. After their initial surprise, the managed to release the woman’s trapped right leg, and she was taken for observation to the Hospitén Sur.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi is pictured sitting in a plane in Zintan after his capture in Libya's rugged desert.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi
Photograph: Ismail Zitouni/Reuters

The man who led the fighters that captured Saif al-Islam has said that the late dictator's son tried to escape arrest by pretending to be a camel herder.

"When we caught him, he said, 'My name is Abdul Salem, a camel keeper,'" said commander Ahmed Amur on Sunday. "It was crazy."

His unit, from Zintan's Abu Bakar al-Sadiq brigade, had been patrolling the vast southern desert of Libya for more than a month when it was given a tip-off late last week that Saif al-Islam was close to the town of Obari.

"We knew it was a VIP target, we did not know who," said Amur, who worked as a professor of marine biology in Tripoli before the war.

He said rebel units with pickup trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns deployed in ambush positions in the desert near Obari, a small town that lies astride roads leading to both Algeria and Niger.

As the informant had predicted, two Jeeps came into view at lunchtime on Friday, surging through the desert near the main highway that leads to Niger.

"When we saw the first car we fired shots ahead of it, not to hit, as a warning. It stopped. Then the second car belonging to Saif came," he said, speaking in English. "We shot warning shots, he (Saif's car) stopped in the sand. Saif and his aide came out of the car."

He said rebel fighters approached on foot, Saif threw himself face down and began rubbing dirt on his face. "He wanted to disguise himself," he said.

Amur raced up to him and ordered him to stand up, finding himself face to face with Saif al -Islam.

But the most notorious son of the late dictator claimed he was not one of the world's most wanted war crimes suspects, but a simple camel herder – Abdul Salem being the equivalent of a British "John Smith".

"His face was covered (with dirt), I knew who he was," said Amur. "Then he said to us, 'Shoot.' When the rebels refused to shoot, and identified themselves, Saif told them: 'OK, shoot me, or take me to Zintan.'

"We don't kill or harm a captured man, we are Islam," said Amur, still clad in the green combat jacket he wore when making the arrest. "We have taken him here to Zintan. After that, our government is responsible."

Zintan was on Sunday hemmed-in by checkpoints set up by its fighters, whose units fought some of the toughest battles of the war, ending in their attack on Tripoli in August.

Omran Eturki, leader of Zintan council, says Saif must face trial in Zintan's own courthouse. "We can try him, it will not take too long, we don't need any new laws," he said, referring to questions over Libya's current legal limbo. "They are Zintanis who captured him so they will have to have him here."

Eturki said it was better to try him in Libya than send him to the international criminal court, which has indicted Saif for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

"The judicial authorities can appoint the judges and the lawyers, but the trial must be here. As long as there is justice, that is it."

He said Saif would get a fair trial. "There is no point to make a revolution for justice, and then you become the same killers. All the people of Zintan want to see him have a proper trial. We don't like to harm him. If we wanted to kill him we could kill him. We captured him so I think we have the right to try him."

Sunday, 13 November 2011

woman from Valletta was today jailed for two years and three months after she admitted to smuggling 12 pieces of cannabis grass hidden in dates into prison

A 27-year-old woman from Valletta was today jailed for two years and three months after she admitted to smuggling 12 pieces of cannabis grass hidden in dates into prison last Sunday.

Miriam Caruana, who was taking the drugs to her Arab boyfriend who is an inmate, also admitted to conspiring to smuggle drugs, aggravated possession of cannabis and committing the crime within a 100 metres of a youth club.

She pleaded guilty to relapsing and committing the crime during the operative period of a suspended jail term.

Magistrate Doreen Clarke jailed Ms Cremona two years for this crime and brought into force a three month suspended jail term.

Police inspector Jesmond Borg prosecuted.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Eurozone government net liabilities

Italy's finances look shaky – a debt-to-GDP ratio of 118%, a heavy proportion of debt to be rolled over and growth almost at a standstill. On the other hand, the level of household debt is much lower that of most other large European countries.

Nor does the government have the same size of unfunded pension and other liabilities as some other European countries.

This chart and caption, published a couple of weeks ago by Société Générale analysts, is alarming.

eurozone government debtsEurozone government net liabilities Photograph: guardian.co.uk

Italian government bonds breached the 7% danger level, HSBC said it had cut its exposure to troubled eurozone countries in Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain

Stuart Gulliver, chief executive of HSBC, warned of "significant headwinds" caused by the eurozone crisis, which has driven its investment banking arm to a loss in Europe.

As yields on Italian government bonds breached the 7% danger level, HSBC said it had cut its exposure to troubled eurozone countries in Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain by $2.7bn (£1.68bn) in the quarter to $5.5bn and took an impairment charge of $171m on its Greek holdings. Its shares fell 5% to 510p.

The $509m loss in the European investment banking arm pushed the entire European operation to a "small loss", compared with profit at the same time last year, as European bond and interest rate trading was impacted by the eurozone crisis.

Some 5,000 jobs have been axed across the group since the first quarter and Gulliver, who used to run the investment bank but has been at the helm since the start of the year, has already unveiled a plan to cut 30,000 roles to save $3.5bn over three years. The "painful" cost-cutting process had begun in Hong Kong just a few days ago, he said.

"The sector faces significant headwinds. The continuing macroeconomic, regulatory and political uncertainty, particularly in Europe, adversely affected our industry's performance in the quarter," Gulliver said. He called on the European Central Bank to buy government and for the bailout fund, the European Financial Stability Facility, to be bolstered, but added there was "no easy solution" to the current crisis. Speaking from Hong Kong, Gulliver said there was feeling in Asia that "this crisis could go terribly wrong".

He said that if the single currency collapsed it could cause a "deep recession" and that were was a "frustration, confusion and a fear factor" about the situation in the markets. A former trader himself, Gulliver said reality was dawning that the European politicians would not take action quickly enough to stop the "panic" in the markets.

He stressed that the exposure to the eurozone was small in the context of a $2.7tn balance sheet. The bank has just been designated as one of the 29 banks in the world that is "too big to fail" - or a globally significant financial institution ("G-Sifi"). While banks in this category will be required to hold more capital, Gulliver stressed HSBC would not be tapping its shareholders for cash.

Across the group, in the third quarter, pre-tax profit rose to $7.1bn from $3.5bn because of a $4.1bn benefit from a fall in the value of its own debt. Stripping this out, profits were down from $4.6bn to $3bn in the quarter and over the nine months were down to $1.43bn from $14.7bn in the same period the year before. On a statutory basis, third quarter profits were $18.6bn, up $4bn on the same period in 2010.

In Europe, the statutory profit before tax in the third quarter was $2.5bn greater than in the third quarter of last year but on an underlying basis the bank conceded it had made "a small loss" compared with the same quarter a year ago. While the European investment banking arm was at a loss, overall it was a profitable although these fell to $5.8bn from $7.5bn in the nine months.

The bank continues to be troubled by its US arm where it is unable to "foreclose" on customers in difficulty because of regulations and where, in September, it was hit by customers stopping paying their mortgages as they realised the bank could do nothing to penalise them.

The bank will not decide until the next 12 to 18 months whether the cost of the bank levy - some $600m this year - and the impact of Independent Commission on Banking, which combined he reckons will cost HSBC some $2.5bn, will be great enough to force the bank to shift its headquarters from London.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Farmer dies after being attacked by jabalí


A farmer has died in Guadassuar, Tous, in Valencia after being attacked by a jabalí wild boar. Reports say the 60 year old man was working in his own orange grove when he was surprised by the beast. Miguel E. suffered injuries in the groin and was found with his blood over his hands and face according to witnesses who said it looked like he tried to defend himself from the attack. It happened last Saturday morning. Tous is a municipality where 90% of the population are hunters and nobody can ever remember anything similar ever happening before. The local police say the victim’s son reported that his father had phoned him on his mobile to say he had been injured, but when a neighbour arrived at the scene he was already dead. Reports indicate that he had earlier suffered a heart attack.

National Police arrest Local Policeman in Marbella


National police arrested a member of the Marbella Local Police force who was found shoplifting in a local commercial centre on Saturday. The man had tried to take a camera from the store. Municipal sources say the agent has already handed in his plaque and pistol, and is being suspended from his post without pay. Marbella Town Hall said they lamented the incident which they described as ‘totally isolated’.

Juan Antonio Roca, the ex Municipal Real Estate Assessor, at the centre of the allegations, has moved on to the most interesting phase

Juan Antonio Roca - EFE archiveJuan Antonio Roca - EFE archive
enlarge photo

The Malaya case investigating the widespread corruption in Marbella Town Hall, and with Juan Antonio Roca, the ex Municipal Real Estate Assessor, at the centre of the allegations, has moved on to the most interesting phase, as the Málaga court starts to investigate the bribes.

On Monday, some five years and seven months after his arrest, Roca has had to start to respond to the big questions at the centre of the case, the backhanders he allegedly received from real estate promoters in exchange for licences to build outside the PGOU urban plan. More than 50 people including ex Mayors and Roca himself are expected to declare in this section of the case.

The court considers that Roca was paid by 19 different companies between 2001 and 2006, a total of 33.3 million €. Among the big payers were Carlos Sánchez and Andres Liétor – 6.8 million, José Avila Rojas – five million, and the directors of Aifos – 4.8 million.

The Córdoba promoter Sandokán, who is now a councillor in the city, allegedly handed over 600,000 in exchange for town planning favours.

The prosecutor claims that despite not being elected, a politician or even a civil servant, Roca was the man who was running Marbella Town Hall following the motion of no confidence passed in August 2003 against the then Mayor, Julian Muñoz. Roca’s power, lubricated by bags of cash, saw all the councilors act as his subordinates.

Key to the prosecution’s case are a series of files found at the lawyers offices, Maras Asesores. The business was controlled by Roca and councilors and businessmen often met in their offices. Police found some files, in the power of Salvador Gardoqui, which are considered to be Roca’s secret accounts, showing the entry and exit of money, with the real estate section of the accounts showing a surplus of more than 17 million €.

In the court on Monday another one of the accused, Eusabio Sierra, admitted, following a plea bargain with the Anti-corruption Prosecutor, that he paid a 60,000 € backhander to Roca to speed up the Town Hall’s payment of a debt. His two year prison threat has now been reduced to six months as a result, which means he will escape jail by paying a fine.

The basis of Roca’s statement to the court today was that he was not in control of the Town Hall and that the now late Mayor, Jesús Gil decided absolutely everything, ‘above all in the areas of work, the economy and real estate’. Asked by the Prosecutor what his relationship was with the Marbella Town Hall, he replied that it was always via municipal companies.

However Roca did admit paying local councilors for their votes in the motion of no confidence against Julián Muñoz, and admitted to the judge that he was paid more than 3.5 million € in backhanders, which he described as ‘advice payments’ for projects developed in the town. He admitted that Construcciones Salamanca 740,000 € and said that Aifos, whose bosses are also on the accused bench, paid as much as 1.8 million €. He said that the accounting of Maras Asesores, was correct, and admitted that was the company he used to try and hide all his finances.

Three Gibraltar police injured in collision with Guardia Civil boat off Gibraltar


Three Gibraltar police have been injured after their boat was in collision with a Guardia Civil vessel in the waters off the Rock on Monday night. Spanish media say the collision took place in Spanish waters close to La Línea during a joint chase of drug traffickers who were in an inflatable craft. The fact the Gibraltar and the Spanish authorities were both chasing the drug traffickers showed that in this case there is no talk of any interference having taken place between the two. Spain has repeatedly requested clear protocols to be established to avoid accidents in situations such as this. The three men were injured as a result of the impact between the two boats, and were seriously hurt. All three had fallen into the water and were rescued by the Guardia. One man with a suspected head fracture was taken to La Linea Hospital but is now at St Bernards on the rock. The other two were taken to the Punta de Europa hospital in Algeciras where they were x-rayed and cleared of fractures. An investigation is underway and it is unclear at this stage whether the drug traffickers got away. The Royal Gibraltar Police vessel is reported to be extensively damaged, including its engines. It’s the latest of a chain of incidents between the Gibraltar Police and the Spanish Guardia Civil.

Waiter found guilty of killing Ukrainian call-girl in Mijas


THE man charged with killing and dismembering a Ukrainian call-girl in Mijas in April last year has been found guilty. The public prosecution was asking for 14 years for manslaughter and five months for desecration of the body. Alla Mefodova, 36, disappeared in Fuengirola, and police only recovered the remains of her hands. DNA tests confirmed they belonged to her. The man confessed that he had been out drinking on the night of April 5, 2010, and enlisted the services of a call-girl who identified herself as Bianca. It was the six calls he made to her phone which led police to him. He told the police they were together at his house for several hours during which they drunk a bottle of whisky and took cocaine. He claimed they began to argue, probably about money. He says that he fell asleep and doesn’t remember how the woman died, but admitted that when he saw she was dead, he went into shock, considering calling the police or committing suicide, but that instead, he took her personal belongings and clothes and burned them. Later, he bought a saw, cut her body into pieces and put them into bags which he dumped in rubbish containers in the area. He claimed to have fainted several times in the process. The waiter from Castilla-La Mancha had no criminal record and had never been accused of violent behaviour. Just a month earlier, Alla had managed to bring her 17-year-old son to Spain, after leaving him with her mother in the Ukraine when he was just seven years old. He and a close friend reported her missing.

Monday, 7 November 2011

London’s newest and most fashionable hotel bling is Whitehall’s Corinthia Hotel

Hotels have become the newest and most luxurious of flaunt-able accessories.

Fashion houses, celebrities and the anonymous super rich want to own them and the rest of us just want to say we’ve stayed there.

London’s newest and most fashionable hotel bling is Whitehall’s Corinthia Hotel: a shiny new bauble of a five star property ensconced in a hallowed vintage building that once housed the UFO wing of MI6 (it’s true, I heard it from the hotel’s concierge). The heart of the hotel is the dome-covered lobby lounge, dressed to the 9′s with a “Full Moon” chandelier by Parisian designer Chafik Gasmi. You want to talk bling; this baby has over 1,001 twinkling crystals winking seductively as government officials, embassy big wigs and arm candy girlfriends sip gin and tonics or take afternoon tea with cucumber sandwiches below.

Upstairs the rooms are lush, Frette linen-wrapped and full of fab extras like Hi Definition TV in the marble bathroom, super sleek electronic hook ups and my favorite: ESPA soaps, scrubs and shampoos in the walk in shower. ESPA fans will want to make a pilgrimage to the hotel just for the new ESPA Life SPA that covers four floors and includes an indoor pool, a vitality pool and–wait for it–an ice fountain.

Downstairs, the hotel’s two restaurants: Northhall and Massimo and the Bassoon Bar are abuzz with London’s Yummy Mummies, MP’s who work nearby and “Dragon’s Den”-like entrepreneurs who clearly feel the Corinthia is the fashion accessory of the moment. Dinining in Northhall is like a trip back in time to the glory days of the Empire with dishes on hand like Goosnargh Duck with Dauphinoise and Buttered Beans and St. Ives Seamed Lemon Sole with Cockles and Clams.

Notwithstanding all the shiny toys to play with, the Corinthia is grounded in luxe hotel 101: spot on service, quality product and a graciousness that reminds one of the old saying attributed to old school Ritz-Carlton staff: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”

Casares actually inherited its name from Julius Caesar, who is said to have ridden himself of a nasty skin complaint thanks to his visit to the Hedionda baths

For here, in this sleepy, undeveloped valley is the still-standing Roman bathhouse, where it is said Caesar himself once bathed around 60 BC.

Having survived for over 2000 years, it is a privileged place to spend an hour and the perfect reminder of the rich heritage that has been left on the Andalucian coastline by a succession of marauding cultures.

Casares actually inherited its name from Julius Caesar, who is said to have ridden himself of a nasty skin complaint thanks to his visit to the Hedionda baths, which literally translate as ‘foul-smelling woman’.

But these days there is nothing foul about the classic ‘white town’, which was first shaped by the Romans and later the Moors, who inhabited the region for over 700 years.

Perched on a rocky outcrop and pouring down two sides of a ridge, this most spectacular of Spanish towns looks impressive from every side.

A photographer’s dream, few towns can compare in terms of subject matter.

Backed by the soaring peaks of the Sierra Crestellina, and views towards the Med and Africa, Casares is also blessed with fabulous walks and wildlife, including a colony of vultures and other rare birds, including eagles.

An enterprising company has recently produced an excellent map of the nearby walks, one of which ascends straight out of the village on a steep path into the verdent hills.

Up here the views stretch all the way to Gibraltar and Africa and you will find yourself completely on your own. Well apart from the odd sheep or goat.

In fact, the town is fast becoming known for its excellent goats cheese and yoghurts. Award-winning Quesos Crestellina produces a fantastic range of organic cheeses from its herd of 400 goats that spend the day up on the peaks.

A family-run affair which dates back over a century, owners Ana and Juan run a tight ship aided by their son Juan, who does all the marketing.

“We sell the cheese all over Spain and yoghurts to the local school, as well as the five star Finca Cortesin hotel,” explains Ana, whose shop also stocks some of the region’s best quality local produce.

Head up into the village for a general wander, in particular admiring the labyrinthine Arabic quarter, with its narrow streets and low rise houses. The most impressive part is the Alcazar (or fortress) at the top of the town, first built by the Romans and later strengthened by the Moors.

From here you have spectacular views and an attractive 16th century church that has been recently renovated.

On your way down take a look out for the street Calle Carrera, where one of Andalucia’s heroes Blas Infante was born. Infante, who was shot during the Civil War, was the man who planned, forged and declared Andalucian independence (in nearby Ronda, for history buffs), before being killed at the age of 41.

Nearby Manilva also has its fair share of history. This is clear from the huge expanse of ruins – much of them Roman – that lie, largely ignored, next to the fortress at Manilva port, known as Duquesa.

It is an interesting area, including a bath house, villas and a necropolis, most of which was discovered in the late 1980s, and which one hopes will be properly excavated in the near future.

The fort itself is well worth a poke around. Built in the 1760s to protect the town against continual incursions by pirates, it is incredibly solid and earnt its builder Francisco Paulino a title and the honour of commanding a cavalry company.

It is here where the town hall of Manilva has its archaeological team, which has recently been busy investigating an exciting Roman discovery in the town.

The substantial remains of a kiln dating back to 2AD are in a good condition and were found alongside a series of fragments of pottery.

It is thought the unique design may be the only existing example in Spain and could serve as further evidence of the town’s key role in exporting ‘garum’, one of the most popular products during Roman times.

Then known as Saltum, Manilva became famous for the delicacy, a pungent paste made from fish guts.

Exported to the Eternal City of Rome via boat, it needed to be stored in well-made pots, called amphoras. And it now seems likely that the recently discovered kiln may be where these were made on an almost industrial scale.

While the centre of Manilva is not of great interest, one of the things you cannot fail to miss is the large amount of vineyards clinging to the steep slopes that drop away from the town.

Mostly Moscatel, the vines are largely for growing grapes for raisins, although in recent years there has been an attempt to return to winemaking, with some astonishingly good dessert wine.

“We have seen a lot more people interested in buying the sweet wines over the last few years,” explains local shopkeeper Maria Esteban, who sells the wine, plus a lot more local produce from her unmissable shop Frutas Pascal y Hijos on a bend on the way into town.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

High speed train comes to Ronda


THE AVE is coming to Ronda. This means significantly reduced journey times to Madrid, Granada, Cordoba, Málaga and beyond. The project also includes completing the upgrade of the line from Ronda down to Algeciras to allow for the faster trains. The announcement was made on Friday, 4 November, via a BOE, Boletín Oficial del Estado. According to this document there will be 64.4 kms. of double track electrified line of the European gauge between the existing AVE-station at Antequera-Santa Ana and La Indiana, the old station on the outskirts of Ronda where the new AVE station for Ronda will be built. The project has a budget of 711.47 million euros and will follow the route of the current single track line between Bobadilla and Ronda. However, according to the website ferropedia.es the line will take a direct route from Setenil de las Bodegas to La Indiana, cutting out the S-loop which takes in Arriate and Ronda, and will cut through virgin countryside. The proposals are now out to public consultation and the plans can be viewed at the Town Halls in Antequera, Campillos, Teba, Cañete la Real, Almargen, Ronda, Arriate, Olvera, Alcalá y Setenil de las Bodegas, as well as in Málaga City, Cádiz and Madrid. I understand from an unnamed source that work will not commence until 2014. So peace and quiet for three more years before more new sounds are added to the local cacophony where we live. However, ignoring any NIMBY tendencies, a high speed rail link from Ronda into the rest of the AVE-network can only be a good thing for the area. With journey times to major cities cut dramatically, it can only improve the economic prospects of the area, both in terms of tourism and commerce. Real estate values in the area around La Indiana are likely to rocket as people realise it’s possible to commute from the rural idyll that is the Serranía de Ronda to Madrid and the other major cities to the north.

James Murdoch is preparing to concede that News Corporation should have acted faster over the phone hacking scandal

James Murdoch
. Photograph: Miguel Villagran/Getty

James Murdoch is preparing to concede in front of MPs that News Corporation should have taken further action earlier to investigate allegations that phone hacking was more widespread at the News of the World than the actions of a single rogue reporter.

The News Corporation boss is to appear before the culture media and sport select committee on Thursday ready to admit that more could have been done between 2007 and 2010 when first insiders and later rivalnewspapers said the illegal practice was widely deployed.

Fighting to save his career, Murdoch is aware he has to appear informed about how News Corp dealt with the hacking allegations – and he has to be prepared to admit that mistakes were made, including by himself.

However, with advisers such as News Corp's acting chief lawyer Janet Nova flying in, it is not clear how far the company's legal team will allow James Murdoch to make the limited concessions planned. Friends of Murdoch say he is "surrounded" by people giving him advice, making it hard to proceed.

The News Corp boss also plans to sidestep any questions about the size of the severance payment made to former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks. It was reported at the weekend that the figure received was £1.7m, although it is understood the payment was in fact larger than this.

Acutely aware of what is becoming a sensitive issue at the company, Murdoch is expected to say any payments made to Brooks cannot be discussed due to contractual confidentiality. News Corporation has no legal obligation to disclose the size of the severance because Brooks was not a director of the US-listed company.

Murdoch was in charge of the News of the World and the company's other British newspapers as part of his job as executive chairman at UK subsidiary News International. He took over from Les Hinton at the end of 2007, nearly a year after News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman was jailed for his involvement in hacking into phone messages left for Prince William and Prince Harry's staff.

Before Murdoch arrived Hinton agreed to pay Goodman a severance of £240,000, after Goodman launched an unfair dismissal claim. News International has said it found no evidence at the time that hacking went on more widely.

A year later, Murdoch agreed to pay football boss Gordon Taylor £425,000 plus £200,000 to settle a phone hacking lawsuit. Controversy surrounds the payout – with former News of the World editor Colin Myler and chief lawyer Tom Crone saying Murdoch was told of an email that made it clear hacking went beyond Goodman. Murdoch has told the committee he had no knowledge of the email.He has also said he was not shown a separate report prepared for Tom Crone by QC Michael Silverleaf – which said that there appeared to be a "culture of illegal information access" at the News of the World. It is understood that he will offer new additional information about what he knew at the time.


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