Spains Gag-Law: Facebook Comment Lands Locksmith in Trouble

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JUAN CARLOS PUYOLES is a self-employed locksmith who provides a 24-hour call-out service in the small town of Pizarra, in the Málaga province. In the early hours of September 15, he was prevented from attending a call due to a car that was parked in front of his garage, despite a sign that clearly indicates no parking. When he tried to contact the towns’ municipal police station by phone there was no reply.

Angry at what had happened, and with the aim of drawing the mayor of Pizarras’ attention to what he saw as a failure by the local police, he wrote about it on his Facebook page. The next day, police officers visited his house to tell him he faced prosecution for “making comments that were disrespectful to the local police of Pizarra”.

Puyoles had unwittingly fallen foul of Spain’s new Citizen Safety Law, which has been criticized by opposition parties, human rights groups, and even the European Union.

“I haven’t insulted or disrespected anybody”, says Puyoles. “What I wrote on my Facebook page didn’t refer directly to anybody, nor did it incite hate, or anything of the kind. All I was doing was reporting a lack of a public service. I needed to get to work and couldn’t because nobody answered the phone to help me”.

Puyoles has since removed the comment from his Facebook page, but explains that he wrote something along the lines of: “It’s 1.30am, I’m calling the police and they aren’t there, but you can find them having a cup of coffee in the village up the road every morning”.

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Another post on his Facebook page, from August 2, also complains about a car parked in front of his garage. “It was the second time it had happened. I was trying to get out of my garage and couldn’t, because a car was parked there. I have to pay to keep access to that entrance, and I don’t understand why there aren’t officers available at all times to deal with problems like this”.

The local police’s complaint against Puyoles has now been sent to the provincial authorities in Málaga, who will decide whether to proceed with it. According to the Citizen Safety Law, Puyoles could be fined between €100 and €600. “Let’s see what happens”, he said. “The provincial administration could ignore it, but if they try to fine me, then I will take this all the way to the top because I believe it is totally unfair”.

Puyoles says that had he known what would happen, he wouldn’t have said anything on the popular social network. “When I linked the comment to the mayor of the town, I was looking to get a response. She came round to my house the next day to check on the no parking sign”, says Puyoles. “I don’t understand why the officers in question are so upset that I said they have a cup of coffee. I have a lot of friends who are in the police. I was in the army and I have always had the greatest respect for the security forces”.

Failing to respect the security forces or publishing photographs of members of the police or armed forces on the internet in a manner which might compromise their security, are punishable under the new security legislation which came into force in July. Facebook users in Spain are urged to take consideration and care with what they write or publish about local and national law enforcement organisations.

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Property Owners in Spain Could Face Unexpected UK HMRC Tax Bills

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A NEW LAW PASSED IN THE UK gives HMRC new powers to force foreign companies to pass on details of internet transactions, and Spanish Hoteliers are keen to ensure that these powers are enforced against private individuals who rent out their property in Spain, and fail to declare their income to the authorities.

Just last month Irish tax regulators successfully forced US-based private landlords’ website Airbnb to hand over details of private rental transactions. Airbnb confirmed that it would give details of users’ rental profits to the tax authorities in Ireland, leading experts to warn that HMRC would use the new law to force Airbnb to release details of rental information in the UK.

The new powers mean that Schedule 36 notices can now be served on any company deemed to be serving as an intermediary for the supply of products and services, wherever they might be located. Originally introduced by the Finance Act 2008, the law was intended to tackle businesses that trade online within the black market, such as eBay vendors and Amazon Marketplace sellers.

Sean Wakeman, tax investigations partner at Crowe Clark Whitehill, said “It is inconceivable that when HMRC can demand information from the likes of Amazon and Ebay, that it will not seek to exploit the relatively low-hanging fruit of private rental sites like Gumtree, Airbnb or TripAdvisor”.

“It is likely that the UK tax authorities will call upon reciprocal agreements as part of the European Union, and that the UK will seek to use European mutual assistance directives whereby information requests are effectively sub-contracted out to local tax inspectors”.

Spain’s hotel and tourism sectors have seen their profits tumble in recent years as consumers increasingly turn to private rental accommodation, and hotelier’s associations and hotel corporations are lobbying government to use the new powers to crack down on unregistered and illegal private renting in Spain.

Meanwhilte HMRC claims that their campaigns thus far have been designed to tackle businesses only, not individuals, but anyone who makes a sufficient income from private rental could be classed as a sole trader and be caught in the tax net.

Martin Bell, a Tax Dispute Resolution Partner at BDO said “HMRC have teams of analysts reviewing online information and any online advertisement to rent out a private room is as good as an advertisement to HMRC telling them you may have something to declare”.

It’s another concern for private landlords here in Spain. We reported in July that new laws in Spain require private property owners to apply for a licence to privately rent out their apartments or villas.

Failure to comply with the latest Spanish legislation can lead to prosecution and fines for the property owner, the advertiser, and any agent employed to manage the property. Fines are set at a minimum of €6,000 and a maximum of €90,000.

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Costa Blanca Woman Fined for Facebook Photo Posting

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AN UNNAMED WOMAN FROM ALICANTE has been ordered to pay an €800 (£570) fine for posting a picture on her personal Facebook page of a Spanish police vehicle illegally parked in a parking bay reserved for disabled people, under Spain’s controversial new “gagging law”.

We reported just last week that the first known individual to fall foul of Spain’s controversial new so-called “gagging law” spoke out against what he saw as the repression of free speech after he received a fine for describing his local police force as “slackers” on Facebook. Facebook users in Spain are urged to take extra care with their postings and be aware of the requirements and responsibilities regarding the new Spanish legislation.

This weekend an unnamed woman, a resident of Petrer in Alicante on Spains’ Costa Blanca, posted the photo on her Facebook page with the comment “Park where you bloody well please and you won’t even be fined”. The local police tracked her down within 48 hours and fined her.

The Citizens Security Law, popularly known as the gagging law and which came into force on 1st July, prohibits “the unauthorised use of images of police officers that might jeopardise their or their familys’ safety or that of protected facilities or police operations”.

Amnesty International condemned the law, saying that photographing police was vital in cases when excessive force had been used. Fines under this section of the law range from €600 to €30,000.

Fernando Portillo, a spokesman for the local police in Alicante, said the officers had parked in the disabled bay because they had been called to deal with an incident of vandalism in a nearby park. A rapid response is essential if they are to catch the offenders “in flagranti”, he told local media, adding that in an emergency the police park where they can.

Asked how the photo had put the police at risk, he said the officers felt the woman had impugned their honour by posting the picture on Facebook and referred the incident to the town hall authorities. “We would have preferred a different solution but they have the legal right to impose a fine” Portillo said.

Last month two couples in Córdoba were reportedly fined €300 (£208) each for consuming alcohol in a public place, although they claimed to have had only soft drinks and a pizza. The gagging law also prohibits demonstrations in the vicinity of parliament or the senate, trying to prevent an eviction or actions of passive resistance such as sit-down protests in the street. Prosecuted offenders face astronomical fines of up to €600,000 (£417,000).

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Penalty for Facebook User in Spain: The New Gag Law

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CONTROVERSIAL NEW SPANISH LEGISLATION now in force means Facebook users could face fines unless they are careful about what they put online, as local Spanish man Eduardo Díaz described his local police force as “slackers” on Facebook and a few hours later, they turned up on his doorstep and fined him.

The first known individual to fall foul of Spain’s controversial new so-called “gag law” has spoken out against what he sees as the repression of free speech after he received a fine for describing his local police force as “slackers” on Facebook.

Eduardo Díaz, a 27-year-old salesman from Tenerife, told the newspaper El Mundo that the comment he posted on his mayor’s Facebook page about the decision to provide the local police force with a new and larger headquarters was “just a criticism, not an insult. I get the impression that they are trying to silence the voice of critical citizens”.

Spain’s Citizen Safety Law (Ley de Seguridad Ciudadana) came into effect on July 1st after the conservative Popular Party government used its parliamentary majority to pass the legislation in the face of harsh criticism from other parties and civil society groups. The law allows for stiff penalties of up to €600,000 (£424,000) for a variety of public order offences, such as unlicensed demonstrations outside a parliament building, inciting an unauthorised protest online and importantly for Mr Díaz, showing disrespect to the police.

In his Facebook comment, Mr Díaz criticised the use of public resources on a brand new police station in the town of Güímar, stating that the local force was a “pack of slackers”. But local police officers wasted no time in reacting, ringing Mr Díaz’s doorbell just hours later to present him with notification of a fine which will be set at between €100 and €600.

“I do not agree with insulting the police and would never show them disrespect. But as a citizen who pays his taxes, I believe that I have the right to express my opinion over a government decision”, said Mr Díaz, who added that he will continue to criticise the authorities on social media.

In addition the Citizen Safety Law imposes penalties on “the unauthorized use of images or personal or professional information” about police officers “that could endanger their personal safety or that of their families, of protected facilities or endanger the success of a police operation”. Amnesty International has complained about this, noting that journalists and other individuals private recordings have occasionally helped report the use of excessive force by the police.

The new law has been widely criticised across Spain, being labelled as draconian and repressive, and in Madrid a Romanian woman was handed a €600 fine under the new legislation for “an act of sexual provocation in a public place” after Spanish government agents caught her allegedly soliciting “in a state of undress” in an industrial estate on the outskirts of the capital.

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Spanish Property Owners: Register to Rent or Face Fines

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PRIVATE PROPERTY OWNERS ON THE COSTA BLANCA face fines from Spanish government regulators as a new law requires all owners who rent private property within the Valencian Community, to register their properties with Provincial authorities in a crackdown on illegal renting and tax fraud across Spain.

New legislation now makes it compulsory for all owners of tourist accommodation, including privately rented homes on the Costa Blanca, to register their property in the Spanish General Register for Tourist Businesses, Establishments and Professionals (Registro General de Empresas, Establecimientos y Profesiones Turísticas), or face the possibility of prosecutions and fines for non-compliance.

Spain’s hotel and tourism sectors are insisting that government and Provincial authorities embark on a campaign to root out illegal renters and rental agencies that are openly operating on the Costa Blanca. They maintain that those who are renting apartments and villas illegally, both individuals and agents, are committing tax fraud and they have asked for more local inspectors to carry out checks throughout the Valencian region.

The new legislation states that the task of regulating private property rental to tourists is no longer covered by the State Law of Urban Rentals (LAU), and is instead subject to regional government law, much of which allegedly aims to restrict private tourist rentals in favour of the much more powerful hotel industry.

From 3rd July, private property owners across the Costa Blanca who wish to rent out their apartments or villas to holidaymakers have to apply for a licence, and their property must be registered with the authorities. Most importantly, once registered, a property’s registration number must be included with any and all advertisements for that property.

Failure to comply with the latest legislation can lead to prosecution and fines for the property owner, the advertiser, and any agent employed to manage the property. Fines are set at a minimum of €6,000 and a maximum of €90,000 and penalties for businesses can include enforced suspension of trading.

David Tornos, President of the Tourist Rental Management Association, stated “The passing of this law could deal a death blow to a growing sector that contributes enormously to the economy,” while ASOTUR, the Asociación de Gestores de Viviendas de Uso Turístico, are quoted as saying, “This is an attack on civil liberties, limiting the use of private property and the freedom of tourists to choose how they want to spend their holidays.”

Local administrators recommend that the registration process should start immediately as enforcement of the legislation can begin immediately, and private property owners across the Costa Blanca who currently rent their property are urged to seek the advice and assistance of a lawyer.

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Spanish Costa Blanca Restaurants Face Allergy Checks

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RESTAURANTS IN SPAIN ARE RECEIVING VISITS from Spanish government regulators and local council officials to ensure food retailers are compliant with the new EU allergy regulations (EU 1169/2011). With large penalties at stake what should restaurants and other food businesses do, to ensure compliance with the law?

The new EU law regulating allergen information might be typical EU; long and rather boring. The not so boring bit is the penalties. In the UK non-compliance with this particular piece of legislation is a criminal offence attracting a level 5 penalty on the Standard Scale: that’s up to 6 months at Her Majesty’s Pleasure and/or a fine of between £5,000 and £60,000 depending on whether anyone actually died from ingesting, for example, an undisclosed peanut.

With this in mind, in many ways you could consider that Spanish authorities reportedly offering a “light” penalty of just €15,000 per offence is rather forgiving. The UK started enforcement in April 2015 and Spanish businesses were given until July 1st 2015 by the EU to get their allergy affairs in order. That deadline has passed.

At the moment unannounced inspections from officers of Spain’s AICA (Agencia de Información y Control Alimentario) are offering advice, but the AICA have a recent history of wide-ranging prosecutions (like prosecuting 110 food companies for, amongst other things, “poor filing” just last month, read it here), so it’s only a matter of time before advice turns to enforcement.

On the Costa Blanca in Spain, Spanish AICA inspectors have been visiting food retailers large and small in Ciudad Quesada, La Marina, Torrevieja, Guardamar, Benijofar and Benimar. Given the fact that established restaurants, hotels, care homes, bars, bistros, pubs, and even market traders on Lemon Tree Lane market in Guardamar have all been targeted, people could face prosecution for non-compliance sooner rather than later.

Who The Regulations Apply To
Anyone serving or selling food to the public needs to abide by the legislation: bars, restaurants, bistros, market traders, hoteliers, care homes, hospitals, pubs and gastro-pubs; even companies that sell food at a distance, for instance websites that sell wholefood products and their derivatives online.

Compliance with The Allergy Law in Spain
Menu’s must feature icons next to the product being sold highlighting which, if any, of the 14 major allergens are contained within the food offered for sale. Icons must be a minimum of 5mm in height and width, clear, legible, and follow the standardised European Directive on graphical appearance and colour.

A public advice notice must be clearly displayed either on the premises, or within the menu, (or for reasons of due-diligence preferably both), advising members of the public about the risk of allergy from consuming food items within the establishment. The notice should reference the EU 1169/2011 regulation.

Legally, wording and terminology must be in Spanish, even if the business caters to a wholly English clientele. The public advice notice must feature larger, legible and clear icons and wording that follow the standardised European Directive on graphical appearance and colour. Note that the regulations do not define what size “larger” constitutes, but assume bigger is safer.

Every food retailer is required by law to have at least one menu in the Spanish language for inspection by AICA officers and their local council representatives.

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New EU Food Labeling Requirements for Restaurants

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THE EU FOOD INFORMATION FOR CONSUMERS regulations (1169/2011) require all unpackaged food items to be labelled with allergen information. This could mean restaurant businesses large and small having to reprint their menus at some considerable expense. But with a hefty fine at stake there may be no other choice.

Restaurants and cafes are running out of time to ensure they meet the deadline to comply with the new European food regulations. We are reminding food businesses that new regulations on food labelling are now in effect and companies which fail to comply face a hefty fine.

The EU Regulation No1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers requires that 14 specific allergens are clearly signposted on food packaging, and most manufacturers have already complied.

But many cafes, restaurants and catering businesses may be unaware that the rules also apply to them. Even when they are serving up food they have cooked themselves, as well as food that has been removed from its packaging, staff should be ready to answer questions on ingredients and about which allergens may be present.

Restaurants, cafes and takeaways may not realise that the new rules carry huge implications for any business that serves food to its customers. Menus must be appropriately endorsed with legally compliant and legible allergy information, with each listed dish clearly illustrating the potential allergens contained within the ingredients, using a Europe-wide standardised set of graphical logos.

Business owners and their staff need to be ready to quickly and accurately answer questions on which allergens, such as gluten, eggs, fish and nuts, are present in the dishes on offer. It may be helpful to have a list of ingredients for each menu item at hand to ensure that the information is readily available.

Businesses can at any time be inspected by environmental health authorities and failure to comply with food regulations can carry a fine of up to £5,000 per offence in the UK, with similar penalties across the EU. Companies also leave themselves open to legal action if they serve up food containing allergens to an allergy sufferer who has asked for information about ingredients and has ordered on the basis of incorrect information.

Time to ensure compliance really is running short and any business owner who is unsure about the rules and how they might be applied should make sure they take appropriate advice as soon as possible.

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