Parents of ill girl planned to flee after getting caught in charity scam

Catalan investigators conclude that the couple was living off the donations meant for their daughter

The parents of a sick child who are being investigated for a charity fraud had been planning to flee the country, telephone records show. Wiretaps of conversations between Fernando Blanco and his wife Marga Garau show Blanco was considering escape just hours before the Catalan police located and arrested him on December 7 in La Seu d’Urgell.

Nadia’s mother speaks on the phone at the courthouse in La Seu d'Urgell.
Nadia’s mother speaks on the phone at the courthouse in La Seu d'Urgell.ATLAS

“If you feel that you can do it a week from now, I’ll put myself on the line, I’ll go get you and we’ll get out of here,” Blanco told his wife, according to audio records obtained by Spanish television show Espejo Público – just one of the programs that the couple had earlier been on to ask viewers to donate money for their daughter Nadia Nerea.

The parents did not hold a job or have any business activities

Blanco is heard advising his wife to delete all WhatsApp messages from him, and assuring her that the escape plan will go well: “If I set up a meeting with you nobody will find out, much less through an encrypted phone.”

Nadia’s mother expresses fear at the questions she would have to face if her husband suddenly left the country by himself. Blanco admits that he is nervous as well.

“My stomach is killing me, I can barely breathe,” he tells his wife. “Where will I go […] Let’s see how the night goes and then we’ll see.”

Rare disease

Eleven-year-old Nadia suffers from the rare disease trichothiodystrophy (TTD), which can delay development and cause intellectual disability. But doctors who have treated her suggest that her condition is not nearly as serious as her parents – who talked about imminent death – led others to believe.

Since 2008, Blanco and Garau have been organizing charity drives, allegedly to pay for cutting-edge medical treatment. The investigation now shows that the couple collected €918,000 over this period of time, only a fraction of which has been used for Nadia’s medical therapy.

EL PAÍS and two other media outlets uncovered the fraud shortly after the latest donation drive, which raised €153,000 in just four days through a television and social media campaign.

Fernando Blanco had been claiming that he and Nadia had already traveled to Guatemala, India, Panama, Russia, Brazil, Argentina, Finland, Cuba, Chile and even a cave in Afghanistan to hire “the best specialists in the world.” But he never produced a shred of evidence to back his claims.

The investigation shows that between 2012 and 2016, Nadia’s parents spent a total of €295 on medication for her. In the meantime, a search of the family home produced a collection of luxury watches valued at €50,000. The rent on their expensive home was being paid by the charitable foundation that they set up to manage the donations.

Investigators have concluded that Blanco and Garau were living off the donations, as they did not hold a job or have any business activities. Blanco has a history of fraud and has served prison terms for swindling his employers.

English version by Susana Urra.

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