Museum's financial director confesses to decade-long EUR 500,000 fraud
In a letter to the museum, the former financial director of the Guggenheim Museum talks about how he has stolen the money.17 April 2008
MADRID - The Guggenheim Bilbao is taking its own financial director to court after a recent audit revealed that the official has allegedly stolen nearly EUR 500,000 from the museum's accounts over the course of a decade.
Roberto Cearsolo Barrenechea, who has admitted the facts in a letter and already returned half the money, joined the Guggenheim staff in 1997, and had been working on the museum project since 1992.
For the last eight years he had been its financial and administrative director until his dismissal this week, museum director Juan Maria Vidarte said in a press conference yesterday.
In his letter, Cearsolo Barrenechea explained that he forged checks and bank transfers from two separate museum funds. To cover up his tracks, he made changes to the 2005 annual accounts as well as several other key accounting documents.
"I have appropriated various amounts for my own benefit for a total of EUR 486,979.38," wrote the former employee, who has agreed to return the full amount within a three-month period.
"Since I could no longer live with this situation, I have decided to confess the facts to you," the letter to the director ended. Cearsolo Barrenechea's confession seems to have been prompted by the local authorities' discovery of financial irregularities at the museum.
Cearsolo Barrenechea worked as a consultant before joining the Guggenheim project in 1992.
When the museum opened in 1997, he became deputy financial director, and three years later its director. In November 2006, he was one of the speakers at the fifth European Museum Registrars' Conference in Madrid, where he explained the management model used by the Guggenheim and how it had earned a quality certificate.
Designed by US architect Frank Gehry, the Guggenheim Bilbao is one of the Basque city's most stunning buildings, and the main symbol of a cultural renaissance for what was once known as a grey, industrial town.
The museum suddenly put Bilbao on the world map and began drawing thousands of tourists each year. That success has led city authorities to embark on even more ambitious projects, including one by the architect Zaha Hadid to create a 60-hectare residential-leisure complex on the island of Zorrozaurre, which will be connected to mainland Bilbao through footbridges.
[El Pais / S. U. / Expatica]