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Nuns with hoarding habit report 1.5m-euro theft, attracting attention of the taxman

Sisters kept cash in wardrobe of their Zaragoza convent, inside plastic bags

The recent theft at the Cistercian convent of Santa Lucía, in Zaragoza province, is beginning to turn into something of a mystery tale. If investigators were already wondering what a group of cloistered nuns was doing with 1.5 million euros in cash stashed away in plastic bags, and who exactly stole it from them, now they have a new reason to scratch their heads: the sisters have changed their version of events, both as to the amount of stolen money and to its origins.

According to sources close to the investigation, on February 28 the nuns reported to police that "a million and a half euros were missing" from the wardrobe where they kept it, inside plastic bags. The police confirmed that three doors had been forced open: the entrance door to the convent, the door to the room where the money was kept, and the door of the wardrobe itself.

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The million-dollar question that is plaguing a convent of Zaragoza nuns

But on March 1, the convent's mother superior reduced the stolen figure to 450,000 euros. The congregation has also offered two different versions of where the money came from. In their original statements to the police, they said it was the result of 40 years' worth of savings. But last week, "probably alerted to the fact that such an amount might be considered a fiscal crime," according to a source, the nuns said the money was income from their book-binding work and from the sale of paintings by a member of their congregation, Isabel Guerra, "the painter nun" who commands high prices for her canvases.

Bank withdrawal

The sisters' attorney and spokesman, Jesús García Huici, told the press that his clients had just withdrawn some money from the bank, and that they had some cash ready to hand out as charity. The lawyer, who was hired Wednesday morning, also stated that the nuns never said they were missing 1.5 million euros but rather 450,000 euros, and that this money was in the form of "various types of bank notes, not just 500 euro notes."

Suspects have already been called in for questioning, although nobody has been charged so far. Meanwhile, the tax authorities will formally inquire as to the origin of the money. Their defense, however, said his clients should not have to prove where it came from. "They are not used to giving explanations for what they do," he said, adding that the sisters prefer to keep their money inside the convent because they cannot often go out to make a bank withdrawal.

The cardinal of Toledo, Francisco Álvarez Martínez, during the 2002 presentation of a portrait of him by Isabel Guerra, "the painter nun" (right), one of the sisters from the robbed convent.
The cardinal of Toledo, Francisco Álvarez Martínez, during the 2002 presentation of a portrait of him by Isabel Guerra, "the painter nun" (right), one of the sisters from the robbed convent.JESÚS CARBAJAL (EFE)
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