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Madrid blew €105 million on failed “City of Justice” project

Documents show misspending on complex intended to house capital’s legal infrastructure

The building that had been set to house the Forensic Anatomical Institute.
The building that had been set to house the Forensic Anatomical Institute.LUIS SEVILLANO

The former head of the regional government of Madrid wasted €105 million of taxpayer’s money on a grandiose project to create what was described in its time as the world’s biggest judicial complex, housing courts, forensic institutes, and other legal system institutions on the northern edge of the capital. But in July 2014, nine years after the project was launched, the company that the regional administration set up to create it, Campus de la Justicia, was officially wound up, leaving a net worth of €25 million of the total of €130 million spent on it, according to documents seen by EL PAÍS.

The €105 million spent on the “City of Justice” project – the difference between the public outlay and the current net worth of the Campus – went on audits, legal fees and designs by architects such as Norman Foster, who was paid €10.6 million.

The money went on audits, legal fees and architects such as Norman Foster, who was paid €10.6 million

More than €27 million was spent on paying construction companies for work that was never carried out, a further €6.4 million went to compensate suppliers, while €11.4 million was paid in rescinded contracts, along with interest payments and other costs. Of the total amount, just €17.3 million actually went towards building something.

The City of Justice was the pet project of then-Madrid regional government chief Esperanza Aguirre. She wanted to build 12 buildings on 400,000 square meters of land in Valdebebas, close to Barajas Airport, and commissioned designs by renowned architect Zaha Hadid, who was paid €50,000 despite the fact no contract was signed. The idea was to move all of the capital’s courts and other judicial buildings from the center of the city to a single location.

The €130 million pumped into the project was raised in part by the sale of two former judicial buildings in Madrid (€76 million). The remainder came from the regional and central government. Between 2007 and 2009, around €94 million was spent on the scheme.

The High Court’s €24 million

Valdebebas, on the northern edge of the capital, was to be home to the capital’s legal infrastructure, currently dispersed around 20 or so buildings in the center of Madrid, costing the regional government close to €40 million a year on rent. The idea was to also locate the High Court on the site.

The central government, which owns the High Court building in central Madrid, provided €10 million for the project. Originally, €13 million had been agreed to have been paid in tranches of €3.3 million, but Campus de la Justicia forgot to ask for one of the payments. After the project collapsed, the central government, which wants its €10 million back, decided to leave the High Court where it is and refurbish it at a further cost of €14 million, bringing total spending on the institution to €24 million.

Only one building was actually completed: looking like an upside-down donut, the Madrid Forensic Anatomical Institute has never been used, and has several times had to be cleared of rabbits. Experts say that putting the building into use would cost at least €5 million.

The 14,000-square-meter building has room for almost 200 cadavers. “It could easily deal with a terrorist attack like that of March 11, 2004: it’s completely megalomaniacal,” say sources close to the project. The regional government of Madrid finally put the brakes on the project at the end of 2008, when the financial crisis hit the country and a decade-long property bubble burst. The City of Justice had by then been costed at half a billion euros. With the collapse of the property market, the value of the six judicial buildings Aguirre intended to sell in central Madrid fell, and just €76 million was raised from two properties. The cost of moving courts to temporary, rented space has not been included in estimates of the scheme.

Ignacio González, who took over from Aguirre after she stepped down in 2012, decided to put an end to the project. He had previously proposed a scaled-down version.

Laying the foundation stone in January 2007, Aguirre congratulated herself on what she called the “architectural judicial museum” that was to be constructed in Madrid, adding: “And what’s more, all this at no cost to the taxpayer.”