Valencia officials arrested on suspicion of stealing international aid funds

Money mainly due to go to Nicaragua was allegedly siphoned off PP regional premier fires two officials among those detained

Police in Valencia arrested have arrested several officials for alleged misappropriation of public money destined to a regional government office that helped needy families in the developing world.

Among those charged with stealing public money, fraud and conspiracy are the director of the regional government’s overseas aid office, Josep Mará Felip; Marcial López, president of the Cyes Foundation; Arturo Tauroni Masia, director of the Hemispheric Foundation; his brother César Agusto Tauroni Masia; and Marc Llinares Pico, a computer analyst.

Also arrested was Alexandre Catalá, deputy secretary of Valencia’s health department, who was immediately fired following the police bust.

Regional premier Alberto Fabra, of the Popular Party (PP), called the investigation, which had been secret until Thursday’s arrests, “a serious one” because “we are talking about money that was allotted for humanitarian purposes.” He fired Felip and Catalá a few hours after the arrests were made.

For the past few years, Felip was the number-two official in the international aid office, which is headed by Rafael Blasco. Fabra spoke with Blasco, who continues to enjoy the trust of the regional premier. But at least two complaints have been filed against Blasco for allegedly creating a ghost company that diverted regional government money that was destined to the developing world.

Police are continuing their investigations into a purported scheme that was organized by a series of public and private officials in different foundations to siphon off funds that were allotted to help needy families in Nicaragua as well as other poor countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

At the times of the arrests, Blasco, who is also a member of the PP parliamentary bloc in the regional legislature, remained seated in the chamber and declined to make any statements to reporters about the case.

“We don’t know if this is all a mistake,” he said when pressed as he finally left the chamber. “It doesn’t mean anything,” Blasco added about the arrests.

“All the money allotted for international aid is there, and the files are in perfect order,” Blasco later told EL PAÍS.

Compromís, a green nationalist coalition party, filed a complaint with prosecutors along with documents alleging that money from the regional government was being diverted by Blasco and other officials. Socialist deputy Clara Tirado filed a second complaint charging irregularities in the management of aid money.

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