December 18, 2008


In recent posts, I have described my continuing sense of unease at the degree of corruption still prevalent in Spain - particularly in Andalucia. And my doubts were in no way alleviated by what I read in the local papers today about the latest fraud to be uncovered in the region.

Spain's most spectacular tourist landmark and one of my favourite destinations, the legendary Alhambra fortress in Granada, has been defrauded of €8m by a ticket scam, allegedly operated by its staff, travel agencies, a tour guide and a branch of the BBVA bank, according to a recently released report. Up to 50 people are implicated in the swindle involving 800,000 faked or unauthorised entry tickets handed out over three years in a process described by criminal investigators as "anarchic and uncontrollable" reportedly plunging the institution into a crisis bordering on bankruptcy.

The Alhambra, the medieval symbol of Muslim rule in Spain with its stunning architecture and hilltop setting, is visited by an estimated three million people every year. However, the report ordered by Granada's court in 2006 – after the ticket office supervisor told governors he suspected something was amiss – estimates that between 2002 and 2005 tens of thousands of people gained irregular access to the Alhambra’s filigree-arched chambers, water gardens and pleasure courts. Doorkeepers apparently let people in at random, "without tickets, with used tickets, with tickets for times different from that marked, even on days different from that stated on the ticket," investigators found.

Compared with the $50 billion Madoff fraud revealed in the USA at the weekend, the €8m Alhambra scam is trivial. Yet, considering that Andalucia has one of the lowest average wage-rates in all Spain, it nevertheless represents wealth on an unimaginable scale, literally a small fortune, to the perpetrators.

Where will it all end?

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