The Slovak shipping company Slovenská Plavba transports fertilizers, cement and coal. It also repairs and builds ships while its own ships take passengers up the Danube. Until 2016, the family of Francisco Franco Martínez Bordiú – the oldest grandson of the late Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, and better known as Francis – controlled this firm via Tabacmesa SA, one of the family’s seven companies. In 2016, Tabacmesa SA sold its share for €7.5 million, according to company records.
Franco himself was earning a mere €300 per year as head of state in 1940 so where did all the money come from?
The shipping business is just the tip of the iceberg of the vast business conglomerate controlled by the seven children born to Carmen Franco, the dictator’s only child, who died in 2017 at the age of 91. The dictator’s grandchildren oversee a complex web of 21 companies with a collective net worth of €102.5 million, and their assets include 404 properties, according to an investigation by EL PAÍS. The property portfolio alone consists of a palace, 89 homes, 266 garage spaces, 29 country estates, five commercial premises and three rural plots.
Although mainly linked to real estate, the dictator’s descendants have their fingers in a number of pies, such as public relations (Ocnarf S. L.), daycare centers (Servicios Infantiles Dulcinea S. L.) and hotels (CM 16 S. L.).
Public money and unpaid debts
The family also has a 17% share in Dulcinea Nutrition S. L., which has a catering contract with La Moncloa, the seat of the Spanish government. Despite earning €3 million from public agencies between 2016 and 2019, the company staff has not been paid regularly, resulting in strikes. The Defense Staff, the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), the Labor Ministry and the city of Málaga have all contracted the services of this company, which is based in Puertollano (Ciudad Real).
The fact that Francisco Franco himself was earning a mere 50,000 pesetas (€300) per year as head of state in 1940 begs the question: where did all this money come from?
To understand the miracle, you have to go to the heart of Madrid, or to be more precise, to number 8, Hermanos Bécquer street in the upscale Salamanca district. This palatial building is the Franco clan’s jewel in the crown; it has seven floors, 4,800 square meters and is worth €50 million.
The property was part of Carmen Franco’s estate and now acts as the headquarters for her children’s property companies Fiolasa SLU and Sargo Consulting S. L. These were run by Carmen Polo during her lifetime; she was addressed as Your Excellency and, in 2009, was earning €17,000 a month from her various business interests.
Four of the seven companies belonging to Francis, the most powerful of Franco’s grandchildren, are based in Hermanos Bécquer street. His net assets are worth €44.7 million and he controls 367 properties: 85 homes, one of which is a 349 square-meter house in the middle of Serrano Street, a 1,175-square-meter warehouse in Madrid and five commercial premises, including 259 square meters of office space on Ayala street in the Salamanca district, where a square meter is worth between €8,000 and €10,000. There are also two duplexes in Talavera de la Reina (Toledo) measuring 80 square meters and 109 square meters, respectively.
Most of the money, however, is in parking lots. Francis has 264 parking spaces in the center of Madrid owned by three different companies. One of these, Tabacmesa SA, owns the parking lot at number 15, General Pardiñas street. With a surface area of 3,992 square meters, it has 170 spaces that are rented out for €181.50 a month. Another company, Pristina S. L., has 22 parking spaces on Príncipe de Vergara street. And since 2015 it has been renting out the ground floor of number 203, Alcalá street to the bank BBVA, an area measuring 1,079 square meters.
The family has a 17% share in the company that runs the cafeteria at La Moncloa Palace
Francis refused to divulge details about his businesses, but confirmed the information uncovered by EL PAÍS. In three conversations with this newspaper, he dodged questions about his interests abroad – besides his share in the Slovakian shipping line, which earned him €449,870 in dividends in 2014, he also owned shares in tobacco companies – Frontera Spol and Koslava Spol in the Czech Republic, Andradi Com in Romania and Helitrade Spol in Slovakia, according to Tabacmesa corporate records. In December 2016 he sold this international conglomerate that focused on duty free cigarette sales.
But these weren’t Francis’ only foreign ventures. His company Montecopel SA, with net assets of €12.4 million, filed for the tax amnesty offered by Mariano Rajoy’s government in 2012. This move shed light on €7.6 million of previously undeclared foreign income, company records show. The tax amnesty allowed individuals and companies to pay 10% on their undeclared money, which was significantly less than the amount of tax that was originally dodged.
According to Francis, his business career took off in South America. “In 1980 I moved to Chile where I lived for six years, then [I spent] 10 more in Argentina,” he explains. “That was where I cemented my career as a businessman; the same as my son Francisco, who has lived in Switzerland and the United States for half his life.”
María de la O Martínez Bordiú, otherwise known as Mariola, has enjoyed a similar degree of success in her business dealings. Her company Domarma 3 S. L., manages assets worth a net €5 million. She also has a 20% share in the chain of daycare centers Servicios Infantiles Dulcinea S. L., a company that employs 84 workers in Guadalajara, Pozuelo de Alarcón (Madrid) and Puertollano (Ciudad Real). Mariola also has a 17% share in Dulcinea Nutrición S. L., which has a staff of 230 and sales worth €7.4 million, according to recent records.
Mariola also has a line of business in public government contracts. Together with the €1.9 million, four-year cafeteria concession at La Moncloa Palace, Dulcinea Nutrición S. L. has a catering contract with the Migrant Temporary Stay Center (CETI) in Ceuta; its late payments to staff has earned it headlines in the Spanish exclave city. EL PAÍS has tried unsuccessfully to reach Servicios Infantiles Dulcinea S. L. and Dulcinea Nutrición S. L. for comment.
But Mariola’s main business interest lies in a company called CM 16 S. L., where she and her children are listed as board members. With assets worth €10 million, it spent €2.5 million in 2010 on turning a palace in the center of Seville into a five-star hotel with 50 rooms. Two years earlier, the company built a block of seven properties in Plaza de Delicias in Madrid. In 2010, it also invested €1.5 million on acquiring 5% of a building in the district of Salamanca. In 2012, it bought another property in the capital for €1.6 million.
Mariola’s family business also has a 20% share in Breda Capital, which runs a five-star hotel promising “hedonistic levels of luxury” in Velazquez street in the Salamanca district. EL PAÍS tried unsuccessfully to talk to Breda Capital and María de la O Martínez Bordiú.
The Franco empire has ventured into construction, public relations, daycare centers and hotels
Across the pond, CM 16 S. L. has a 9.5% share in a property in Savannah, Georgia, and cashes dividends from Komar Investment, according to this company’s records.
Besides María del Carmen Martínez Bordiú, who owns almost 10,000 square meters of land spread over three rural plots in the northern region of Cantabria, the rest of the dictator’s grandchildren are in one way or another linked to the family web of companies – María del Mar with assets worth €4.1 million, María Aranzazu (€3.6 million), José Cristóbal (€2.9 million) and Jaime Felipe Martínez Bordiú (€900,000).
It is a fortune that, according to sources close to the family, can be traced back to a speculative property deal regarding the sale of an estate in Arroyomolinos in Madrid. In the 1940s, when the dictator struck the deal, the land was classified as rural and could not be built on, but in 2003 it was rezoned, prompting its value to soar.
But according to the Franco clan’s estate administrator, Luis Felipe Utrera-Molina, the vast inheritance had more to do with the dictator’s wife, Carmen Polo. “The Polo family was very rich,” says this lawyer who describes Francisco Franco as a moral man who could not be accused of greed.
This article was updated on November 19, 2019 with new data collected by EL PAÍS from the Spanish property registry.
English version by Heather Galloway.