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31 Jan 2012

Spain Lost $51 Billion Foreign Portfolio Investment to November

 

Spain lost 38.6 billion euros ($51 billion) of foreign portfolio investment in the 11 months through November, as the sovereign debt crisis pushed more foreign investors to exit Spanish markets. The outflow from securities such as bonds and equities accelerated from 24.1 billion euros in the first 11 months of 2010, the Bank of Spain said in an e-mailed statement today. Spain’s current account deficit narrowed to 36.2 billion euros in the period from 45.8 billion euros a year earlier, the central bank said. The People’s Party government, in power following a general election on Nov. 20, is trying to convince foreign investors it can fix public finances and kick-start the shrinking economy. Spain’s 10-year borrowing costs have fallen to 5 percent from more than 6 percent at the end of November, helped by three-year loans the European Central Bank began offering banks last month. Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said on Jan. 25 that “real foreign money” is starting to flow into the country as investors buy government bonds. The yield on Spain’s 10-year benchmark bond was 5 percent today, compared with 5.04 percent yesterday and 6.63 percent on Nov. 30. The Ibex 35 main share index, which declined 13 percent last year, is unchanged so far this year.

26 Jan 2012

TONY Blair agreed to a secret deal to hand Gibraltar over to Spain, claims a former cabinet minister.

DISCLAIMER:Text may be subject to copyright.This blog does not claim copyright to any such text. Copyright remains with the original copyright holder
In a sensational new book, Peter Hain insists that he and Jack Straw struck a joint sovereignty deal with the Spanish government in 2002 after being given the green light by the former Prime Minister.
In his memoirs, Hain reveals that Blair was keen to win the support of Spain in order to strengthen his hand in Europe.
The former Europe Minister also accused Gibraltarian leaders of being stuck in the past, while he describes Blair’s attitude towards the Rock’s inhabitants as ‘contemptuous’.
The deal was scuppered following resistance from Spanish ‘hardliners’ who insisted on full sovereignty.

former Europe Minister revealed Mr Blair sanctioned the deal because he wanted to win the backing of the Spanish government

DISCLAIMER:Text may be subject to copyright.This blog does not claim copyright to any such text. Copyright remains with the original copyright holder.

Deal: Gibraltar has been a British overseas territory since 1704
Deal: Gibraltar has been a British overseas territory since 1704
The former Europe Minister revealed Mr Blair sanctioned the deal because he wanted to win the backing of the Spanish government – then led by Jose Maria Aznar – to help Britain take on France and Germany in EU negotiations.
The agreement was only shelved when what he called 'hardliners' in the Spanish government – who wanted only full sovereignty – objected.
 
In Outside In, published yesterday, Mr Hain says he joined forces with then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to make private overtures to Spain during 2001.
Mr Hain and his Spanish counterparts looked at an 'Andorra solution' which would have seen co-sovereignty between the UK and Spain.
Rock's role
In February 2002, Mr Hain says he was given the green light by Mr Blair to proceed.
He quotes Mr Blair as saying: 'It is really important to get a better future for Gibraltar, to secure a better relationship with Spain and to remove it as an obstruction to our relations within Europe.'
But Gibraltar's first minister Peter Caruana told Mr Hain: 'There is no prospect of me agreeing with such an approach.'
Mr Hain accused Gibraltarian leaders of being 'stuck in the past'.
The deal unravelled with Spain's 'conservative, nationalist government getting cold feet at the last moment', he says. Mr Blair then urged him to 'park' the agreement.
Gibraltar then held a referendum in which 98.48 per cent voted No to a deal with Spain.
Labour's willingness to sell out the people of Gibraltar stands in contrast to the firm line taken by the Coalition. David Cameron has repeatedly said Gibraltar should stay British.
A spokesman for Mr Blair said: 'Tony Blair has never said or thought Gibraltar should be “run by Spain”. Nor was he “contemptuous” of it.'


23 Jan 2012

The King of Spain is a serial womaniser who once made a pass at Princess Diana while she was on holiday with Prince Charles, a book has claimed.


It also alleges that Juan Carlos is a ‘professional seducer’ who has had numerous affairs and has not shared a bed with his wife for the past 35 years.

And it reveals that age has not stopped  the 74-year-old, with the monarch regularly receiving vitamin injections and anti-ageing treatments. 

Tactile: Princess Diana being kissed in 1987 by the King of Spain, who according to a new book, is a serial womaniser

Tactile: Princess Diana being kissed in 1987 by the King of Spain, who according to a new book, is a serial womaniser

Together: Diana, Prince Charles and their boys with King Carlos, Queen Sofia and members of the Greek royal family onboard a yacht in August 1990

Together: Diana, Prince Charles and their boys with King Carlos, Queen Sofia and members of the Greek royal family on board a yacht in August 1990

The Solitude of the Queen by Pilar Eyre, which is likely to prove controversial in the Catholic country, claims the king made a ‘tactile’ advance to Diana while she and Charles were on holiday in Majorca in the 1980s. 

It follows much-derided allegations made in 2004 by Lady Colin Campbell that the princess had a fling with Juan Carlos while on a cruise in August 1986 and then again the following April. 

Controversial: The Solitude of the Queen by Pilar Eyre claims the king made a ¿tactile¿ advance to Diana while she and Charles were on holiday in Majorca in the 1980s

Controversial: The Solitude of the Queen by Pilar Eyre claims the king made a 'tactile' advance to Diana while she and Charles were on holiday in Majorca in the 1980s

During a 1987 visit, in which Charles and Diana  went to Madrid, the king was pictured smiling as he kissed the princess on the hand – a gesture which left Diana  looking embarrassed.

Miss Eyre’s book also alleges that Queen Sofia has not slept in the marital bed since 1976 and only remains in the marriage out of ‘a sense of duty’.

She even claims the queen stumbled upon her husband with one of his alleged  lovers, the Spanish film star Sara Montiel, at a friend’s country house in Toledo in 1976.

Sofia, now 73, was forced to attend a football match the day afterwards ‘as protocol demanded’, before storming out of the  Zarzuela Palace, their official residence, with her children.

Advised to stay with her husband, she was told a break-up would mean she would ‘end up being paid to liven up the parties of the newly rich’.

Miss Eyre adds: ‘The role of the queen is sad, she is the loneliest woman in Spain.’

Distant: Carlos and Queen Sofia have allegedly not slept in the marital bed together since 1976

Distant: Carlos and Queen Sofia have allegedly not slept in the marital bed together since 1976

She also told Spanish gossip magazine  Vanitatis: ‘Queen Sofia is a woman betrayed and hurt with a married life that has been a real tragedy. The king’s closest friends I have spoken to say they don’t like her.’

And she alleges that, as recently as last year, when the monarch was recovering from the removal of a benign lung tumour, he was seeing a 25-year-old German translator.

After writing the book, Miss Eyre was informed she would no longer appear on Spanish TV channel Telecinco.

She said she was told: ‘The station has banned talk about your book and does not allow you to continue working. You are banned, Pilar, we are sorry.’

 

17 Jan 2012

Huaxi: The socialist village where everyone is wealthy

 

The sort of oxen you expect to see in Chinese villages tend to be pulling carts or tilling fields, not a beasts made of a ton of gold. This precious cow is located on the 60th floor of a 328m-tall skyscraper in Huaxi, China's richest village, and building that juts out of the eastern landscape like a giant tripod topped by a golden ball. Huaxi is a "model socialist village", according to local officials, and was founded by local Communist Party secretary Wu Renbao in 1961. His foresight was to transform a poor farming community into a super wealthy community, built on its clever adaptations of modern agribusiness methods, then its diversification into steel mills, its logistics firms, and its textile businesses. The commune listed on the stock exchange in 1998 and is now a major corporation in its own right. Its subsidiary companies, built into something that resembles a modern-day conglomerate, exports to more than 40 countries around the world. Huaxi is where Chinese people come to learn how to get rich. At a time when the rest of the world, and indeed much of China, is trying to absorb an economic slowdown, Huaxi is like a parallel universe. "This cow cost 300 million yuan (£31m), but now it's worth 500 million yuan," says our guide, Tina Yao, as she steers us from floor to floor in the Zengdi Kongzhong New Village Tower, which is taller than anything in London. "Zengdi" translates as "increase the land" and the skyscraper cost three billion yuan (£310m). Other floors have giant animals of solid silver. Fearsomely bejewelled chandeliers hang over your head in banquet halls that hold thousands of people. You approach these glittering sites walking on gold-leaf marble, passing aquariums with sharks and stingrays. Far below, you see the villas and theluxury cars. Every villager gets a share of the corporation's profits and is entitled to a car, a house, free healthcare and free cooking oil. The village feels a little like Dubai. It is not big on charm – the replicas of the Arc de Triomphe and the Sydney Opera House – are of questionable taste, but where it is widely different is in how well it is able to meet its people's needs. Mr Wu is keen that Huaxi should showcase China's achievements and now some two million visitors come to Huaxi every year to gaze upon its splendour. The original founding families, who are known as "stakeholders", number around 1,600 and the average household income is around £100,000 a year, once all the bonuses, pensions and wages are factored in. White BMWs are ubiquitous and the murals, instead of depicting socialist realist muscled workers in overalls, have pictures of happy families living in wealthy villas. This is where Huaxi stands apart from so many other villages in China. While the rest of the country suffers from a yawning wealth gap between the rich cities of the eastern seaboard and southern coasts and the rural hamlets, Huaxi took the initiative, driven by Mr Wu's pragmatism, and headed its own way. It behaved like a city, even importing migrant labour. "We only ever wanted what was good for our people," is a dictum of Mr Wu, who is now 86 years old and retired. His son has taken over as party secretary, but the father still gives lectures on socialism every day. He avoids allying himself too closely with either capitalism or communism, though his pragmatism has strong elements of the Chinese Communist Party about it. No one doubts the wisdom of Mr Wu, and looking at the village's wealth, why would they? He broke up the collective system of farming and encouraged people to grow their own crops. Below the stakeholders in the hierarchy come the residents from neighbouring villages that have been absorbed into Huaxi, and then tens of thousands of migrant workers who perform most of the rest of the work. Work and wealth are the crowning ideologies. No one takes weekend breaks, and the streets tend to be deserted of residents because they are all off working. The hard work has clearly paid off and the money raised has helped the villagers diversify into other industry. One of those areas is tourism – wealth tourism – and some of the locals help to meet and greet the two million tourists that come every year to see the village. A new reason to come is to see the skyscraper, which is impressive, although as there is nothing even remotely as tall in the surrounding countryside, it looks strangely incongruous. The reason it is so tall is a useful insight into the mindset of the people here. It is, as Mr Wu said in a recent interview, because the people Huaxi can compete with anyone in the country. "Beijing's tallest building is the 328m-tall World Trade Centre. Huaxi wants to maintain the same height with the Central Committee of the Communist Party," he said. The village's total square area is a little less than one square kilometre, and there are barrack-style dormitories, factories, and pagoda style-buildings for local residents. The skyscraper houses the Longxi International Hotel, which has 2,000 beds and will employ 3,000 people eager to learn how to become wealthy, Huaxi-style. Intriguingly, in the central village park, there are the statutes of five of the true icons of Communism in China, some more controversial than others. The panoply includes the former mayor of Beijing, Liu Shaoqi, who was purged in the period of ideological frenzy that was the Cultural Revolution and whom many believed Mao had murdered. He has never really been rehabilitated and remains outside the pantheon of true revolutionary heroes. But then Mr Wu himself suffered during the Cultural Revolution. He set up factories but the Red Guards paraded him in the village as a "capitalist roader" and locked him up, much in the same way as Liu Shaoqi. Like Deng Xiaoping, who also suffered during the Cultural Revolution, Mr Wu bided his time and soon was back on his capitalist track after Mao died in 1976, except that these ideas became formulated as socialism with Chinese characteristics. All over the village are megaphones blasting out the village anthem, which tells of how communist skies shine down Huaxi, a village of everyday miracles. "I have heard about Huaxi for many years. I have wanted to see it for many years," said one octogenarian visitor from Chengzhou. Two men, both of them employed in security and not stakeholders in the village, say they love what is going on in Huaxi, but they admit they are a bit jealous of the shareholders who get a stake in the village's profits every year. Certainly, there is a lot of bluster in the way Huaxi markets itself. The divisions between the stakeholders and the migrants on the streets are large. But no one in China doubts its importance as a model for the success of the nation. And deny at your peril the wisdom of Mr Wu and of the wider Chinese psyche: The song from the public address system says it proud: "Socialism is best."

16 Jan 2012

British driver arrested after Sevilla hit and run

 

23 year old Briton has been arrested in Campillos, Málaga, by the Guardia Civil in connection with a hit and run accident at a petrol station in Gillena Sevilla last Thursday. A petrol station worker was injured and had to be admitted to the Virgen del Rocio Hospital, and the driver failed to stop. The Briton lives in Campillos and has been named with the initials W.A.F., and has been taken to Sevilla to attend the court which has charge of the case. By chance a member of the public had seen a TV report on the wanted driver and recognised him coincidentally at a petrol station in Campillos.

Bad news for foreign victims of Costa del Sol mortgage scam

 

The National Court will not be investigating the mortgage fraud which was reported last year by twenty foreign residents of the Costa del Sol and which affected victims all along the Spanish coastline. Most of the banks and foreign financial advisors involved were from Denmark who informed their clients that, if they died without a mortgage on their Spanish property, their heirs would be subject to hefty inheritance taxes which they would never be able to pay. They were then offered a mortgage on their property, with the money invested outside Spain, mainly in Luxembourg. El Mundo reports that the investments did not however go well, and the victims are now in danger of losing their homes. The Málaga victims are represented by the Marbella law firm Lawbird, who told El Mundo, ‘This is complete judicial apathy from this court, which considers the complaint as lacking in relevance.’ ‘It contrasts,’ they said, ‘with the rapid response from the Danish government which has announced that it will investigate the manoeuvres which invested the funds from the loans in fiscal paradises.’

Court orders Spanish woman to return her children to her husband in the UK

 

Spanish woman resident in Valencia, named by EFE as Carolina A.G., has been ordered by a local court to return her children to their father in the UK, where the family moved in 2008. Her estranged husband is a Nigerian man who obtained Spanish nationality after they married in Spain in 2003. The couple has three children, now aged 8 and 5 years old and, the youngest, just 4 months. Their mother says she has suffered abuse from her husband throughout her marriage, and she finally reported the abuse last year. She also reported him for rape. She told the EFE news agency, ‘I feared for mine and my children’s lives … he has also mistreated the eldest and he even punched me in the stomach when I was pregnant with my last child.’ She decided to return to Spain after he threatened to take the children to Nigeria and she was advised by the Spanish Consulate in Nottingham that it was better for her children to be in Spain. The mother does not have sole custody, and a Valencia court applied the Hague Convention in its ruling made public on Monday, considering to be responsible for illegal abduction. It also said that she has violated an order from a Nottingham court banning her from taking two of her children outside the jurisdiction of England and Wales. The denuncias against the husband were not taken into account by the Valencia court and the mother’s lawyer has now requested a letter rogatory to the UK justice system for the official complaints to be provided to Spain. It’s understood that he has also lodged a denuncia for rape and abuse at the National Court, as the body which is responsible for safeguarding the rights of any Spanish citizen.

15 Jan 2012

Days of the Costa del Crime could soon be over

 

THE days of the Costa del Crime could be seriously numbered. Or at least, so say the Spanish police. Detectives in Malaga have revealed that a year-long crackdown on British and Irish fugitives is paying off and Malaga is no longer an ideal hideout for wanted criminals. The clampdown, which came in a series of on-the-spot raids on pubs, bars and shops on the Costa del Sol, has drawn considerable success. In total, dozens of wanted fugitives have been caught in the raids after six roving teams of national police were set up at the end of 2010. The teams entered establishments closing off exits and demanded identification from all those present. In one day alone, last year, they made a staggering four arrests, while in total 117 Irishmen were arrested last year, using the method. The moves were spurred on by the murder of Irish tourist John O’Neill, 40, who was shot near a pub in Benalmadena by a man wanted by British police. Police insist that due to the crackdown there were fewer gangland shootings and ‘settling of accounts’ last year. “The recession could also have had an influence but things are definitely a lot quieter,” said a spokesman for the UDYCO organised crime unit.

14 Jan 2012

Ciudad de la Luz film studios in trouble in Alicante

 

Another of the large projects in the Valencia region is in trouble as the company which runs the Ciudad de la Luz film studios in Alicante, Agua Amarga de Gestión S.L., has applied for bankruptcy protection. It comes as the regional government has failed to pay four million € as the promoter of the project. Mercantile Court 2 in Alicante accepted the application on December 16 2011. The centre has amassed a total debt of more than 190 million €, and now the Valencia Government wants to privatise the operation despite spending 160 million € on it. The project was an idea of Eduardo Zaplana, an ex Partido Popular President of the Valencia Government who thought it would compensate the city for the Terra Mítica park in Benidorm. The studios cover a 320,000 square metre site. El País reports that a new agreement between the regional government and the company could be round the corner. The company says that would need the payment of the debt. They note that in 2005 when the first productions were carried out at the facility, there were in that year 59 productions in total which brought an income of 174 million €, saw jobs for 4,757 workers and more than 3,000 contracts with other companies. It also gave rise to some 150,000 overnight hotel stays in Alicante.

Iberia pilots announce more strike action

 

Pilots from the SEPLA union who work for Iberia have announced three more days of strike action on January 25, 27 and 30. It follows four days of previous action in protest at the plans by Iberia to establish a new low-cost carrier, Iberia Express. SEPLA say that they have picked the dates with care, so as not to affect the Spanish tourism fair, FITUR, which runs in Madrid between the 18th and 22nd of this month. Meanwhile cabin crew and ground staff are also considering taking action, and are reported to be looking at striking on Mondays and Fridays from February 2. A meeting will be held on Tuesday to confirm that action which could affect 21,000 workers on the ground in handling, cargo, maintenance, trade and operational activities.

The Decree to regularize houses in Andalucia

 

According to Hillen “It’s possible that this fireworks display will dazzle some but if you look at the detail of the Decree you will see that it does not help those with ongoing court proceedings, where perhaps the majority could face the chop”. “If what the Junta wants is more cases like the Priors, the decree certainly does nothing to prevent that” she added. “Actually, I sometimes despair at how little the administration is in contact with the real problems of its citizens. They must know that what looks nice on paper is not always workable in practice. It appears that they don’t and all they want to do is inundate us with a byzantine tangle of laws and, whilst they are about it, completely destroy foreign investment in Spain”. Hillen asks “What shall I tell elderly retirees who have demolition orders against their homes? Can I tell them that the Decree will save them? I can’t because it doesn’t”. “What can I say to hundreds of retired couples who live on irregular urbanisations without escritura for their land? Can I tell them that the Decree will give them their escritura? No I can’t, and indeed some of those who currently have escritura are at risk because, according to the Decree, escrituras can be annulled because of the possible illegal segregation of land.” “On the other hand, the regularization of these developments still has to go through an unrealistic, expensive, arduous and painful process which will take a very long time” she added. Regarding the new provision for isolated houses she states that “I regret to say that these houses are relatively blighted, since according to the decree they are not entitled to a licence of occupation or use; are subject to yet to be defined future regulations and some theoretical minimum standard of habitability; Furthermore, the decree states that these houses can only be repaired and preserved; that they should have self sufficient supplies of water, electricity and waste treatment and that only in exceptional circumstances can they be connected to mains services; In other words they are of dubious legality” “That is to say that the Junta, instead of making an important legal change , and by that I mean changing the LOUA, to resolve a major problem has instead only created more confusion in addition to creating a category of second class housing”. She concluded by saying “I hope that not too many people are lured by this bait because I think that it doesn’t fix very much. In fact among our members we think that only 16% of them will benefit in any way from this Decree”.

Government to bring in changes to the 'Ley de Costas'

 

The current and controversial ‘Ley de Costas’ has been in force since 1988 with hardly any modifications. Now the new Minister for Agriculture, Foodstuffs and the Environment, Miguel Arias Cañete, has indicated that ‘very deep reforms’ are on the way to bring value to the coast. El País reoprts that at an event to welcome top civil servants in his department, he gave a speech which indicated that the environment cannot stop economic development, and said that environmental legislation needs to be simplified. Sources at the ministry have noted that there is a problem of judicial insecurity with the current legislation and that they have received pressure from countries such as Britain and Germany, and complaints from EuroMPs as there are foreigners who have been affected by the compulsory purchase aspect of the legislation. The law, which was left untouched by the Aznar government, declares all the beach to be of public use, but does not use a fixed distance, following geographic concepts instead. That extends the area into dunes and marshlands, to where the sea has reached in the worst of storms. Many people have purchased property without the notary or the bank telling them it is located in land for public use, and these people have been granted a 30 year concession of use, but no longer own the property. A legal change now is complicated by the fact that there has already been compulsory purchases and demolition of some properties, so their owners will now be able to claim compensation. The new legislation is expected to extend the concessions, as ‘thousands’ of them were to expire in 2018.

Extra Virginity: The Sublime And Scandalous World of Olive Oil, not all virgins are as pure as they might seem — and the world of olive oil is increasingly beset with fraud, smuggling and even poisoning.


According to Tom Mueller, author of a new book on the subject, Extra Virginity: The Sublime And Scandalous World of Olive Oil, not all virgins are as pure as they might seem — and the world of olive oil is increasingly beset with fraud, smuggling and even poisoning.

The problem is that where there’s money, there’s crime, and olive oil is a very valuable commodity. 

Olive oil is graded into several different types for sale, the most common of which is extra virgin

Olive oil is graded into several different types for sale, the most common of which is extra virgin

In July, Spanish police arrested the leader of a gang responsible for the theft of more than a million litres of the stuff, siphoned from storage tanks in Murcia, and shipped under false paperwork to Italy for sale. 

Italian newspapers regularly report producers being robbed at gunpoint by drivers who arrive in the middle of the night with tankers.

A few years ago, Bertolli, the biggest olive oil brand in the world, suffered a multi-million euro theft at its plant near Milan — with sophisticated thieves using jammed security cameras, guns and lorries to secure their bounty. 

 

 

Olive oil occupies a unique place in culinary history. Humans have been eating the fruits of these gnarled and tenacious trees for as long as the two of us have coexisted on this planet. 

But since then, too, the olive oil industry has been dogged by fraud. 

Clay tablets found at Ebla, in Syria, describe the activities of a 2,500  year-old anti-fraud squad who were responsible for ensuring the purity of oil, while the classical philosopher and doctor Galen complained of unscrupulous traders adulterating their olive oil with liquid lard to make it go further. 

But ancient foodies were lucky — the Roman Empire had strict controls in place to minimise such double dealing. 

Two thousand years later, olive oil regulation is back in the Dark Ages. 

Olive oil doesn't come cheap - beware of anything under about £6 a litre

Olive oil doesn't come cheap - beware of anything under about £6 a litre

As Mueller’s book observes, when you buy wine, you can usually trust that the contents match the label: if it says Chateau Margaux 1949 on the bottle, you’re not going to find last year’s Chilean Malbec inside. 

Olive oil labels, by contrast, give very little information to the consumer: an oil costing £20 a bottle will look, on the shelf, very similar to one retailing at a tenth of the price.

And with one former producer claiming 98  per cent of what is sold in Italy as extra-virgin olive oil is actually nothing of the sort, how on earth can shoppers tell what they’re getting?

In theory, it should be easy: olive oil is graded into several different types for sale, the most common of which is extra virgin. 

Extra virgin olive oil is the highest quality, made from the very best olives. 

Virgin oil, meanwhile, is made with slightly riper olives and so is deemed to have a less superior flavour.

European legislation dictates that any oil labelled virgin must have been extracted from the olive by physical means, such as pressing, rather than by chemical refinement. It also has to pass a taste test conducted by EU experts.

Rigorous enough, you might think — if only the law was properly enforced.

Olive oil doesn’t come cheap —beware of anything under about £6 a litre — and many have succumbed to the temptation to cut a few corners.

The most common fraud involves diluting extra virgin oil with a lesser grade — such as lampante, or lamp-oil, judged unfit for human consumption because of its high acid content.

Another option is to substitute a different type of oil entirely, often originating outside the EU where production is cheaper. 

Last year, two Spanish businessmen were sent to prison for selling extra virgin olive oil that turned out to be 75 per cent sunflower oil, while Mueller recounts the story of a shipment of Turkish hazelnut oil which, after a voyage around Europe, arrived in southern Italy in September 1991 with papers declaring it was Greek olive oil. 

There it was mixed with the real thing, and sold to unsuspecting customers including Nestle, owners of Buitoni oil, and Bertolli for use in their products. 

The substantial profits associated with such fraud, Mueller says, enable crooks to bribe low-paid customs officials and police to turn a blind eye to such arrivals. But this deception isn’t just confined to smugglers and gangsters. 

In 2004, an olive oil producer called Andreas Marz, concerned about the declining quality of Italian olive oil, decided to conduct his own test. 

He bought 31 different kinds of extra virgin olive oil from German supermarkets, and sent them to three expert tasting panels in Florence for analysis. 

Only one was judged to meet extra virgin standards, nine were downgraded to virgin, and the rest, including offerings from several major Italian brands, were graded as lampante.

When Marz published the results, those involved in the revelations found themselves hit with lawsuits by Carapelli, makers of ‘Italy’s most beloved extra virgin olive oil’, who seemed to have friends in some very high places indeed. 

In fact, ‘intimidation’ is the word used by one of the experts concerned. 

No wonder, then, that Marz’s shocking findings changed absolutely nothing. Such adulteration is deceitful, certainly, but pales in comparison to the toxic oil scandal which killed more than 1,000 Spaniards, and seriously injured 24,000 others, in the Eighties. 

They fell ill after consuming rapeseed oil intended for industrial use, which had been rendered inedible by the addition of a toxic compound called aniline, used in the production of plastics.

Only virgin oils can claim the full range of health benefits attributed to olive oil, because the refining process strips lesser oils of its vitamins

Only virgin oils can claim the full range of health benefits attributed to olive oil, because the refining process strips lesser oils of its vitamins

Unscrupulous traders had taken advantage of the low price-tag, repackaged it as olive oil, and sold it for culinary use.

Even companies which act within the law are happy to appropriate the premium image of Italian olive oil for lesser blends. 

Don’t be fooled by Italian flags or Tuscan olive groves on a label. Italy is one of the world’s largest importers of olive oil, much of which is then blended, stuck into suitably Italian packaging and re-exported.

About 80 per cent of the oil produced in Jaen, southern Spain, for example, is shipped to Italy, where it can be packaged and sold by Italian brands as ‘packed’ or ‘bottled in Italy’, for a far higher price than poor old Spanish brands can get. 

Indeed, Bertolli, for all its rustic Italian advertising, tells Mueller it actually imports about four-fifths of the oil it uses, mostly from Spain, North Africa and the Middle East. 

While it doesn’t really matter, from a health point of view, whether our olive oil comes from Tuscany or Tunisia, the much vaunted advantages of this cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet — its apparent ability to help protect the body from some forms of cancer and cardiovascular disease — depend very much on the quality of the oil. 

Only virgin oils can claim the full range of health benefits attributed to olive oil, because the refining process strips lesser oils of its vitamins.

But until the EU imposes tighter controls of the kind in place for wine, there seems little incentive for the olive oil industry to clean up its act.

In the meantime, there are a few things the consumer can do to help ensure that the oil they’re buying is of the quality that they’d expect it to be. 

Go for virgin or extra virgin oil, where the golden rule is that sadly, if it seems too cheap to be true, it probably is. 

Look for dark bottles, which will protect the contents from damaging UV rays that make it rancid, and search out the longest sell-by date you can.

Olive oil may be sacred to many British foodies, but it’s not immune to corruption.

It seems that, for the unwary consumer at least, healthy eating is a very slippery business.



SHIP AGROUND: COAST GUARD CONFIRMS 3 DEAD

 

At this time, 3 people are confirmed dead in an accident involving the cruising ship Costa Concordia. The ship left Civitavecchia for Savona yesterday at 7:30 PM and ran aground near the Isola del Giglio. According to Coast Guard sources, the situation is still confused. The ship has been boarded by Coast Guard rescue personnel, firefighters and a Costa officer and checked top to bottom to confirm that everybody has been evacuated. A portion of the passengers was taken on other vessels to Porto Santo Stefano while other went to Livorno by helicopter. The cause of the accident has not yet been ascertained. The grounded ship suffered a blackout just before running aground. . .

'Six feared dead' and thousands evacuated as cruise ship hits rocks off coast of Italy

 

Holidaymakers from France, Italy, Germany and Britain were forced to flee the 1,500-cabin Costa Concordia in lifeboats when it hit a reef less than two hours after leaving port. Some leapt overboard and swam to shore as the ship started to sink into the waters near the island of Giglio, off the Tuscan coast. Francesco Paolillo, the coastguard spokesman, said that at least three bodies were retrieved from the sea and at least three more were feared dead. Pregnant women and young children were among the 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew on board. Passengers' dinner on Friday night was interrupted by a loud boom at around 8pm and a voice over the loud-speaker system initially claimed that the ship was suffering an electrical failure, before ordering everyone on-board to don life-jackets.

12 Jan 2012

Two air passengers met by police over heated bust up after teenager 'reclined his seat'

 

A furious row broke out between two passengers on a packed jumbo jet after one reclined his seat as the man behind was about to eat. The pair almost came to blows at 40,000ft as shocked travellers looked on. It started when an 18-year-old sitting in economy class moved his seat back to sleep. Air rage: The drama happened on board an Emirates 517-seat Airbus A380 - the world's biggest commercial airliner - from Dubai into Manchester Airport The 38-year-old passenger sitting immediately behind him was about to eat his in-flight meal at the time. And when he asked the youth to put his seat back up while he ate a major row broke out.   More... Airline passenger is stunned three times with a Taser gun after after he refuses screening check and runs into secure area Car-sized robotic explorer fires its thrusters for next stage of journey to Mars - and will land there in August The pair traded insults and leapt up from their seats in a head-to-head confrontation. As the argument became more heated cabin crew were called and attempted to defuse the incident. Stunned travellers watched as the two men continued to shout abuse at each other while standing in the aisle before they were finally persuaded to calm down. The drama happened on board a 517-seat Airbus A380 - the world’s biggest commercial airliner - operated by Emirates from Dubai into Manchester Airport. Close: The row broke out as one passenger reclined his seat while the man behind was about to eat The pilot of flight EK17 was so concerned he radioed ahead and police were informed. Officers went to the gate at Terminal 1 after the flight landed to meet the two passengers at around noon on Tuesday. A spokesman for Greater Manchester Police confirmed officers ‘spoke to’ two men, aged 38 and 18. No further action was taken as neither man wanted to make a formal complaint, and both also admitted they had been ‘in the wrong’, say police. A spokesman for the airline said: ‘Emirates does not tolerate this kind of behaviour from passengers and safety will not be compromised.’ They confirmed there had been an ‘altercation’ on board the flight and, although no blow had been exchanged, cabin crew had been called to calm the passengers. One traveller who uses the route said: ‘I have recently flown with Emirates to the Far East. This trip was split into two separate flights and lasted 20 hours. ‘Like a lot of people on the second leg of the trip I wanted to sleep. There is a system in place where you can indicate that you do not want the meal and to be left alone to sleep, which is what I did. My seat was reclined to the limit allowed. Welcome party: Police officers were waiting at the gate at Manchester Airport's Terminal 1, pictured, to meet the two passengers involved ‘When it came time for the meal I was woken up by the person behind asking me to sit up, so they could enjoy their meal. I was a little p***** off that I had been woken up. 'I hadn’t reclined it whilst he was eating, I was doing what I wanted to do, sleep, in a position that the seat was allowing me. I didn’t make a fuss and accepted it.’ He said: ‘This is only a problem in the "cheap" seats and perhaps the airlines can have an area in this class for passengers who want to sleep in the reclined position. 'No meals would be served to these passengers, so the problem will be removed. By sitting in this area you accept no meals and the seat in front may be reclined.’ The double-decker plane first started flying into Manchester Airport in September 2010 after around £10m had been spent on changes to the airfield to accommodate it. Its introduction was part of a huge boom in the number of people flying in and out of Dubai,

Gold treasure trove and millions in cash seized from Colombian drug dealers in Spain

 

A National Police operation has seized more than 4 million € in cash and a treasure trove of gold ingots from a group of drug traffickers based in the north west of Madrid which was finalising a deal to sell off half a ton of cocaine. Three suspects from Colombia have been arrested, who also face charges of money laundering. The Interior Ministry said in a press release on Tuesday that the drugs were brought into Spain by air and the laundered proceeds from their sale were then sent to Colombia in the same way. Police began their investigations last month and swooped on the luxury apartments which were used by the gang early on the morning of January 5, seizing more than 3.5 million € and three kilos of highly pure gold. The gold was made up of ingots each weighing a quarter of a kilo. A further half a million € was discovered when the suspects’ vehicles were searched.

Suspect arrested over woman found murdered in Fuengirola

 

An arrest has been made in the case of the woman who was found dead, wrapped in plastic and a blanket, beneath a bridge in Los Boliches, Fuengirola, on Monday morning. She was identified as E.U.G, a woman who was born in Almería in 1980. She is believed to have been killed last Saturday, two days before her body was found. The autopsy has now confirmed the cause of death as asphyxiation, and it’s understood there were also signs that she had been hit on the head. There was no sign of rape, or that any of her personal possessions had been stolen. All that’s known on the suspect is that he was known to the victim. La Opinión de Málaga said he was arrested in Fuengirola.

AIFOS boss now admits paying Juan Antonio Roca

 

Another twist in the Malaya case with the owner of the real estate promoter, AIFOS, Jesús Ruiz Casado, telling the court on Wednesday that, despite his declaration on Tuesday that he had never made any payments to the Marbella Municipal Real Estate Assessor, Juan Antonio Roca, that in fact he did make the payment ‘of some amounts’ through his commercial director, Francisco García Lebrón. Casado explained that he had found a 135,000 € mismatch in a report on the accounts of his company which had been presented to the Court, and that there was a 90,000 € coincidence with the notes in the computer archives of Juan Antonio Roca. He said he told his commercial director to make a payment to support the Town Hall sponsorships and fiestas. ‘I did not control this matter sufficiently’, he said and said he pleaded guilty to avoid prison, and admitted making payments of 4.8 million € for town planning favours between 2004 and 2006, for which he is accused.

10 Jan 2012

the secret of the Costa del Sol got out to the world, in a big, big way

 

.The mid-Andalusian coastline began to lure Northern European types, weary of their long, dark winters and eager to bask in the region's ever-present sunshine. First came the super-rich and famous (think Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, and Laurence Olivier), after Prince Alfonso of Hohenlohe-Langenburg opened the aristocratic Marbella Club in 1954. The demi-rich and B celebs followed, and gradually the masses—as is their wont—caught wind of the fun and sun, subsequently descending in droves. Through it all, the gays came too, establishing their beachhead at Torremolinos in the 1960s and 70s. Unfortunately, the switch from sleepy-fishing-village-dotted seashore to frolicksome touristic playground proved too rapid for the area to bear seamlessly. Unsavory types like on-the-lam Brits, the Russian mob, and Arab arms traffickers crept in, earning the region the unwelcome nickname Costa del Crime in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Unsavory Marbella politicians meanwhile took advantage of the instability, pushing through scores of corrupt construction projects before being stopped and ultimately jailed. Now, however, with a clean political slate and hot on the heels of a highly publicized summer 2010 visit to the area by Michelle Obama, the Costa del Sol is back with a vengeance. A new generation of hip tourists, a large faction of them gay, are now discovering the 300-plus days of sun, the warm Mediterranean beaches, the bargain-to-luxury shopping, the excellent spas, the delectable food, the rich history, the effervescent culture, and yes, those scrumptious southern Spanish men of the delightful Costa del Sol. By far, most international visits to the Costa del Sol start in Málaga, and more specifically at its Pablo Ruiz Picasso International Airport. Low-cost carriers like Ryanair and EasyJet have turned this into Spain's fourth busiest airfield, with scores of carriers now serving over 60 countries. The airport's newly opened third terminal is expected to accommodate the growing number of travelers in the coming years. Thanks to an extension of Spain's high-speed AVE train line in 2007, it's now also possible to get from Madrid to Málaga by rail in just about two and a half hours. While many Málaga arrivers scurry off to nearby beachside resort towns, any proper visit to the area requires a healthy dose of the beautiful city itself. With about 570,000 inhabitants, this is Europe's southernmost metropolis, not to mention one of the world's oldest towns, with an historical center dating back more than 3,000 years. In this now fully modern and vibrant city, remnants of previous civilizations are around every bend, with Phoenician, Roman, Moorish, and Reconquista Christian sites especially visible—and more still being found all the time. In 1951, during the construction of a new library, a fantastic first century B.C.E. Roman Theater was unearthed, and it's now one of Málaga's main attractions. More recently, during the construction of the Vincci Selección Posada del Patio Hotel on Pasillo Santa Isabel, remains of both the Roman and Arab walls of the city were found, and can be viewed by all from a specially designed underground walkway. THE INSIDERS GUIDE WHERE TO STAY WHERE TO PLAY WHERE TO EAT WHAT TO DO Pablo Picasso and Antonio Banderas are two of Málaga's most famous sons, and while you have a slight chance of seeing the latter on one of his frequent visits to town, you certainly won't miss homages to the former, known to his mother and many a modern tour guide as Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso. The fabulous Museo Picasso, while just one of three major museums devoted exclusively to the artist's work (the others are in Barcelona and Paris), contains perhaps the most intimate and revealing collection, with more than 220 works donated directly by Picasso's daughter-in-law and grandson. Also worth a visit is the Museo Casa Natal (Birthplace House Museum), which features thousands of works by Picasso, his contemporaries, and those he influenced. Just up the hill from the Roman Theater is the Alcazaba, a Moorish fort started in the eighth century but mostly taking its present form in the mid-11th century. Farther up the hill (but further forward in time) is the Castillo de Gibralfaro, where the Moorish people of Málaga famously waged a three-month battle (albeit ultimately unsuccessfully) against the Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, in 1487. Inside the castle is a small but interesting archaeological museum, but most visitors come for what's outdoors: breathtaking views of the city below. For a royal hotel stay, the Parador de Málaga Gibralfaro, part of Spain's exceptional state-owned Paradores system, is actually attached to the castle itself. Continuing onward chronologically, Málaga's post-Reconquista city center Cathedral is known locally as La Manquita, or "one-armed lady," thanks to her clearly missing second tower, a victim of depleted coffers in the 18th century. She's still stunning, and her one beautiful outstretched arm manages to crop up in photos all around the old town. CLICK FOR SLIDESHOW OF COSTA DEL SOL When you're ready for a break and some Málaga tapas, the nearby La Moraga is unparalleled, the local outpost of Michelin-starred chef Dani García's growing gastronomic family. Once sustained, try out Málaga's plentiful shopping options, especially the city center pedestrian street Calle Marqués de Larios, which is lined with chic shops, boutiques, and cafés. Málaga also has a Corte de Inglés (part of the much-beloved, Spanish, one-stop, department store chain), as well as several malls and countless specialty stores spread across the city. One of Málaga's most famed festivals is its vivid Holy Week (or Semana Santa), during which massive ornate tronos (thrones, or floats), made of gold and silver and often weighing more than five tons, are carried through the streets, accompanied by music and song. Things turn especially dramatic on Good Friday, when shops and streetlights go dark to better showcase the solemn procession. Antonio Banderas sometimes still takes part in the festivities, as he did here in his youth. The festival dates back more than 500 years to the Catholic Reconquista, and its long history is commemorated at the Museo de la Semana Santa (Holy Week Museum). Somewhat less holy but even more famous is the Feria de Málaga, a nine-day, mid-August festival that's one of Spain's largest. Shops and offices close so everyone can enjoy the food and drink. Meanwhile, traffic is stopped so the streets can fill with music and dancing. Traditional costumes are everywhere, with many women in colorful flamenco dresses and many men dressed as sexy vaqueros (or cowboys). While it's not nearly as big as Holy Week or Feria, Málaga has its own Pride event as well called Hoy Málaga es Gay (Today Málaga is Gay), taking place annually in late June. LGBT life is thriving in Málaga, which boasts a growing number and variety of gay bars and clubs, many situated around Plaza de la Merced. For a fun dip into the local queer scene, start out with the lively Bohemian loungy-ness of El Carmen, then move on to the throbbing disco action of Reinas (Queen). The refreshingly small (just 50 rooms) and colorful Room Mate Lola Hotel is a great place to lay your head in Málaga, with cool design, a central location, a hip clientele, and a friendly staff. Even more centrally located (right next to the Cathedral) is the AC Málaga Palacio Hotel, which boasts a rooftop pool and restaurant/bar with 360-degree views of the city, making it a consummate setting for that impromptu Spanish same-sex wedding. For venturing beyond Málaga proper and onward to the splendid Costa del Sol, your best bet is to rent a car. This can be ridiculously cheap, as low as $60 a week depending on when you travel, your vehicle preference, and Euro conversion rates. Taxis are plentiful, but distances between towns are fairly large, so fares can be high. Buses are available as well, but they run sporadically. Trains, running about every 30 minutes, also connect Málaga to Torremolinos and Fuengirola, but the latter is only about halfway to Marbella, so you'll still need a cab or car to take you the full distance there. Less than ten miles south of Málaga lies Torremolinos, long the gay capital of the Costa del Sol region. Though it began like many towns in the area as a sleepy fishing village, people were here and queer as early as the late 1950s. By 1962, Toni's Bar, Spain's first-ever gay bar, had opened. Even during the oppressive Franco regime, homosexuals were mostly given wide berth to behave as they liked in Torremolinos—as long as they spent their tourist pesetas while doing so. By the early 1970s, gay life was booming here, centered (as it still is) around La Nogalera in the heart of town. Torremolinos lost much of its cachet in the mid-70s when down-the-coast Marbella came into full bloom, but with the decriminalization of homosexuality in Spain later in the decade, the town began to attract more and more gays from all over the country, and eventually from across Europe. After an upswing in the 1980s and much of the 90s, another downturn followed just before the millennium, as Eurogays bored of a destination that'd become too routine and gone stale. Somewhat surprisingly, Torremolinos has undergone yet another powerful resurgence in the last few years, proving it a gay Spanish phoenix that simply refuses to go quietly. As Spain's magnetism draws in more and more international LGBT travelers, Torremolinos, virtually unknown to Amerigays until recently, is now finally being discovered by those looking beyond the tried and true Madrid-to-Barcelona-and-Sitges route. Interestingly, Torremolinos also draws many heterosexual Nordic and British types, leading to odd amalgams like a Finnish bar atop a gay disco, as in the case of the popular and very fun Home. Other current LGBT hotspots (among some 20 in Torremolinos) include Parthenon and Passion discos, both always packed on weekends. Since Torremolinos isn't yet exactly teeming with upscale lodging options, many visitors choose to stay in Málaga and make the journey by taxi at club time—in fact, it's what many Malagueños themselves do every weekend. For those who'd rather be able to stumble home, Hostal Guadalupe is a solid Torremolinos choice. Beyond the packed nightclubs and visible renovations around town, another clear indication that Torremolinos' star is again on the rise was the 2010 debut of Expo Gays, an international gay business expo that drew some 180 exhibitors and 15,000 visitors to the city's 60,000-square-foot Palace of Congresses and Exhibitions over three days in mid-October. Of course, one of the main reasons people flock to Costa del Sol is to soak up the ever-present local sun. Torremolinos itself has several lovely stretches of sand, including the once gay but now mixed Poseidon Beach. Most locals will assure you, however, that the best gay beach in Costa del Sol is farther down the coast, between Calahonda and Marbella at Cabopin. While this naturist beach isn't exclusively gay, it boasts a large pink stretch (commencing about 200 yards to the west of the parking lot) that includes a very cruisy and action-packed dune area. Whether you lay or play, Cabopin makes for a nice rejuvenating stop on the journey south from Torremolinos or Málaga to Marbella.

Undercover agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, working with their Mexican counterparts, helped transfer millions of dollars in drug cash and even escorted a shipment of cocaine via Dallas to Spain

 

The covert activities were undertaken as part of an operation to infiltrate and prosecute a major Colombian-Mexican narco-trafficking organization moving cocaine from Colombia to Mexico and the United States. The undercover operation, detailed in Mexican government documents obtained by the New York Times, first came to light via a Monday dispatch by Times reporter Ginger Thompson. The documents "describe American counternarcotics agents, Mexican law enforcement officials and a Colombian informant working undercover together over several months in 2007," Thompson reported. "Together, they conducted numerous wire transfers of tens of thousands of dollars at a time, smuggled millions of dollars in bulk cash—and escorted at least one large shipment of cocaine from Ecuador to Dallas to Madrid." The documents "show that in 2007 the authorities infiltrated" the operations of an accused major Colombian cocaine trafficker, named Harold Mauricio Poveda-Ortega, Thompson wrote. Poveda-Ortega, also known as the Rabbit, "was considered the principal cocaine supplier to the Mexican drug cartel leader Arturo Beltran Leyva." Leyva was killed in 2008 in a shootout with Mexican naval forces. Poveda-Ortega was arrested in Mexico City in November 2010. The Mexican government documents include testimony from a DEA special agent "who oversaw a covert money laundering investigation" into Poveda-Ortega, Thompson reported. The documents form part of the file supporting a Mexican Foreign Ministry extradition order for Poveda-Ortega from last May 2011. The United States, however, has declined to indicate whether Poveda-Ortega was extradited to the United States, Thompson writes. A Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney similarly told Yahoo News Monday that the department is "not in a position to comment on the specific matter." The Drug Enforcement Administration defended the undercover operation in a written statement given to Thompson. "Transnational organized groups can be defeated only by transnational law enforcement cooperation," the agency wrote. "Such cooperation requires that law enforcement agencies — often from multiple countries — coordinate their activities, while at the same time always acting within their respective laws and authorities." Former DEA agent Robert Mazur, who posed as a money launderer in a similar undercover DEA investigation targeting the banks supporting the Medellin drug cartel, said such undercover operations are necessary and legitimate. Covert drug stings are critical, he says, in lining up evidence to successfully prosecute the top command and control figures of organized crime cartels. "This is a law enforcement technique that has been used for decades," Mazur told Yahoo News in a telephone interview Monday. "If we were to embrace the concept that these undercover money laundering operations shouldn't be conducted because in a small way, they for a brief period of time create a short term benefit for the criminal, we would be doing criminal organizations around the world the greatest favor they could get. We would be closing door to one of the most effective methods available to attack what law enforcement calls the command and control of these global organizations." The organizations targeted in these intricate DEA stings "are not people selling dime bags of crack on the street, but people trying to create terrorists states around the world," continued Mazur (Mazur, who retired from the DEA in 1998, has recounted his experience infiltrating the BCCI bank accused of money laundering for the Colombian drug cartel, in a book, The Infiltrator.) Mazur also disputed any comparison between the undercover DEA case exposed by the Times Monday and the recent controversy over "Fast and Furious," the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) program that allegedly put guns in the hands of Mexican drug gangs. "I would never agree in any circumstances it's worthwhile to put 2,000 weapons in the hands of criminals," he said. "Each of these operations needs to be professionally managed and individually scrutinized. This one, from what I read, is very common place, and I don't see anything in there that disturbs me in the least." Recent DEA undercover operations have led to the apprehension and successful prosecution of two major global arms traffickers, including the Russian-born, so-called "merchant of death" Viktor Bout, who was convicted in November on four counts of plotting to sell anti-aircraft guns and other weapons to Colombia's FARC rebels; and the Syrian-born "Prince of Marbella," Monzer al-Kassar, who was sentenced by a New York court in 2009 to 30 years in prison.

Switch to olive oil for better health

 

Indian households should completely switch to olive oil as a cooking medium as its nutritional value is very high, it is rich in monounsaturated 'good' fats and, when used daily, can bring instant and easy wellness to a family's diet, celebrity chef and noted cookery expert Nita Mehta says. "Even though we have such a wide range of olive oils in our market, people don't seem to use them because of their mental block that the flavour of olive oil doesn't gel with Indian flavors," Mehta said at the launch here Satuday her latest book, "Indian Cooking With Olive Oil".

Trial begins in giant Spanish corruption scandal

 

top Spanish former official went on trial Monday at the start of legal proceedings into a raft of corruption scandals in which King Juan Carlos' son-in-law is also accused. Jaume Matas, the ex-head of the regional government of the Balearic islands who had also served as environment minister, appeared at a court in Palma de Majorca alongside three other suspects. They have been charged with embezzlement, fraud, falsifying documents and influence peddling. Matas was charged in March 2010 and was released after paying a record bail of 3.0 million euros ($3.8 million). Prosecutors are demanding an eight and a half years jail term. Matas served as president of the government of the Balearic Islands between 1996-1999 and then between 2003-2007. He was environment minister between 2000-2003. The so-called "Palma Arena affair" as the Spanish press has dubbed the corruption scandal centres on the suspected embezzlement of public funds during the construction of a velodrome in Palma de Majorca between 2005-2007. An investigation concluded that the cycling track had an unjustified cost overrun of 41 million euros. That led authorities on the archipelago to uncover other cases of suspected embezzlement of public funds, including one allegedly involving royal son-in-law Inaki Urdangarin. The 43-year-old ex-Olympic handball player is scheduled to appear in court on February 25 as part of a probe into corruption at a non-profit organisation, Instituto Noos, which he headed between 2004 and 2006. The probe centres notably on a payment of 2.3 million euros to Instituto Noos for organising a tourism and sports conference in 2005 and 2006. Urdangarin, who has the title Duke of Palma and is married to the king's youngest daughter, Princess Cristina, has denied any wrongdoing. Last month the royal family suspended the the duke from official engagements and the palace's highest official, Rafael Spottorno, gave an unprecedented rebuke, telling Spanish media his behaviour "does not seem exemplary".

Santander Chairman Botin, Brother Lose Appeal in Spain Tax Case

 

Banco Santander SA Chairman Emilio Botin lost a bid at Spain’s National Court to block three groups’ ability to file complaints against him over accusations he broke national tax laws by hiding funds in Switzerland. Appeals by Botin, his brother Jaime Botin and other people contesting a November decision to allow the complaints by the three groups were rejected, the Madrid-based court said today in a ruling sent by e-mail. In Spain, any citizen can make a so- called popular accusation in legal proceedings even if they are not directly involved in the matter. The court said in June it would investigate Botin and 11 family members after tax officials received information on clients at HSBC Holdings Plc’s Swiss private bank from French authorities. The Botin family, in a statement distributed by Santander at the time, said it has put its tax affairs in order “voluntarily,” has met all its tax obligations and hopes the case will be cleared up in court. A spokesman for Spain’s largest bank, who asked not to be identified in line with company policy, declined to comment today in a phone interview. The complaints were made by three groups called Ciudadania Anticorrupcion, Asociacion Contra La Corrupcion Sistemica Y En Defensa Del Libre Ejercicio De La Acusacion Popular and Manos Limpias, the court said.

Spanish Home Sales Decline for the Ninth Straight Month as Economy Shrinks

 

Spanish home sales declined in November for a ninth month as the economy contracted and unemployment surged. The number of transactions fell 14.4 percent from a year earlier, the National Statistics Institute in Madrid said in an e-mailed statement today. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, the People’s Party leader whose government took over from the Socialists on Dec. 22, has said he will restore a tax rebate for the purchase of homes to spur the market as a 23 percent unemployment rate weighs on demand. Spain is struggling to work through an excess of 700,000 new homes after the collapse of a building boom saddled banks with 176 billion euros ($225 billion) of what the Bank of Spain calls “troubled” assets linked to real estate. Spain’s economy contracted in the final months of 2011 as tourism and exports, the drivers of a recovery in the first-half from a three-year slump, weakened, the Bank of Spain said on Dec. 29

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