Alhambra chief arrested in money-laundering investigation

Police looking into awarding of audio guides contract at Granada tourist site

Javier Martín-Arroyo
María del Mar Villafranca.
María del Mar Villafranca.M. ZARZA

The head of the board of trustees of Spain’s most-visited tourist site, the Alhambra Palace in Granada, has been arrested along with three other employees and a businessman in connection with an alleged money-laundering and embezzlement case.

Public prosecutors in the Andalusian city and the police’s financial crimes unit have for several weeks been investigating a case involving the awarding of the contract to supply audio-guides to the 2.4 million tourists who visit the monument each year.

Board chief María del Mar Villafranca and three of her team – her deputy and secretary general Victoria Chamorro, accountant José Visedo and the representative from the Government Comptroller’s Office at the monument – were all summoned to give statements at Granada police headquarters, before being released. A second businessman is also expected to be called in to declare on Friday.

The government’s vice-delegate in Granada, Santiago Pérez, said the four Alhambra chiefs had been summoned as detainees and then released.

Villafranca’s position at the tourist site is pending ratification by new Andalusia regional culture chief Rosa Aguilar, who took up the role last week.

Villafranca has defended the “integrity and transparency” of her management in relation to the contract

Police are looking into the 2007 awarding of the audio guides contract to the company Stendal. The firm’s payments to the Alhambra corresponding to the rental of the guides have been inconsistent and tainted by constant delays over the last eight years.

Villafranca has defended the “integrity and transparency” of her management in relation to the awarding of the bid in 2007 and its subsequent renewal in 2011. The contract is due to expire in September.

In a press conference in which she did not take questions, Villafranca said that she would resign immediately if she ended up being named as an official suspect in the case.

“She was surprised by the arrest, but she has a very clear conscience and her hands are clean,” said sources close to Villafranca.

More information
Gang accused of €3.5 million ticket scam at Alhambra
Spain’s appeal to Muslim tourists
The Alhambra that eyes cannot see
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS