The father of a Spanish girl with a rare disease who allegedly fraudulently raised what is now thought to be nearly €1 million for her treatment has been jailed without bail. His wife has been released pending charges but has lost custody of her daughter.
In a case that has received a huge amount of media attention in Spain, Fernando Blanco and his wife Marga Garau were arrested last week on suspicion of fraudulently raising money through media campaigns to pay for what they said were cutting-edge treatments for their 11-year-old daughter Nadia Nerea, who suffers from trichothiodystrophy (TTD), a rare disease that can delay development and lead to significant intellectual disability and recurrent infections. Severely affected individuals may not survive beyond early childhood.
Blanco was jailed in 2001 for embezzling €120,000 from his employers
The girl’s father, who has previously spent time in prison in Mallorca for embezzling what judges believe was at least 20 million pesetas (€120,000) from the company he worked for, originally said he had already traveled to Guatemala, India, Panama, Russia, Brazil, Argentina, Finland, Cuba and Chile to hire “the best specialists” in a bid to help his daughter.
But Blanco has failed to produce any evidence that he has visited those experts, while medical experts have said some of the treatments allegedly undergone by his daughter do not exist.
After EL PAÍS and other media outlets revealed the inconsistencies in his story, Blanco admitted that he has been taking his daughter to see unlicensed healers, not specialists around the globe. He promised to return all the money he has raised since 2009 from all his donation drives.
Original reports put the sum of money obtained by Blanco and his wife for their daughter’s treatments at around €300,000 – including €153,000 in just four days during a recent publicity campaign – but police in Spain’s Catalonia region now say the figure was €918,000.
According to police analysis of the couple’s bank accounts, 52-year-old Fernando Blanco and his wife have already spent two-thirds of the money received – around €600,000 – but this money was not used for expensive treatments in locations such as Houston. Instead it constituted personal gain. Blanco has now been remanded in custody with authorities fearing he is a flight risk and that he may attempt to destroy evidence.
Police investigations have also revealed the €9,800 annual rent on the family home in Fígols, a village in the Catalan Pyrenees, was paid for by the foundation set up by the family to collect funds for their daughter. Money that was raised from thousands of people through events including fun runs, theater events and raffles also went towards buying a car with a price tag of €24,500.
A police search of the family property carried out recently uncovered €1,845 in cash, 32 luxury watches valued at a total of €50,000, top of the range electrical appliances and marijuana. More items were found in the car including several mobile phones, a starter pistol and rifle cartridges.
In a detailed statement published by Catalan police on the case, authorities revealed Blanco was arrested after eluding a police roadblock established in the municipality of Cerdanya that had been set up precisely because of fears he would try and flee the country. Blanco, who was using three different phone numbers from three different countries in bid to avoid being tracked down, had been set to appear on television that day to explain his actions but failed to appear.
A police search of the family property uncovered 32 luxury watches valued at a total of €50,000
During interrogations, a judge and prosecutors have asked Blanco about money still held by him in bank accounts – a total of €319,676 according to police. Investigators also learned that pediatricians in the region where the family lived had been in touch with a center in Barcelona that treats conditions including that suffered by Nadia. But the father refused and claimed the treatment would be carried out in Mallorca and Houston. The girl’s chief pediatrician had tried without success to obtain her medical records.
Before his clients made their statement, the couple’s lawyer defended them by saying: “No amount of exaggeration or interpretation can lead you to say this was a scam to get money. The essential facts are not in doubt. The girl suffered what she was suffering from: the personal, human, family and economic situation [of the family] were described correctly.”
Marga Garau was arrested on December 7 but released later that day so that she could look after her daughter. She has now been denied custody of Nadia, with the family being charged with her welfare. On Saturday Garau returned to court in La Seu d’Urgell, in the Catalan province of Lleida with a local shouting “Liar!” as she entered the court.
English version by George Mills.