Treasure hunters get suspended sentences in Spain

25th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

The three British commercial divers were accused of stealing gold and diamonds from a shipwreck off the coast of Galicia and of destroying Spain’s cultural heritage.

MADRID – A Spanish court handed suspended sentences on Tuesday to three British commercial divers, who admitted illegally removing artefacts from an Atlantic Ocean shipwreck off Spain in 2002, after a deal with prosecutors.

The three members of the Force 9 Salvage company each received two six-month prison sentences, suspended for two years, and a fine of EUR 1,000 from the court in Santiago de Compostela in the northwest.

The men, all from Cornwall, were accused of stealing gold and diamonds from the Don Pedro, a shipwreck off the coast of Galicia, and of destroying Spain's cultural heritage.

Spanish prosecutors had initially sought a six-year jail term for the men but agreed to the lower sentences after the men pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of damaging and stealing tin ingots from a wreck, media reports said.

Force 9 Salvage, based in Falmouth, had full permits and a contract with the Spanish government to work on the wreckage of another shipwreck in the area, that of the Friesland, a Dutch vessel than sank in the late 19th century.

But prosecutors argued they strayed onto the Don Pedro, a French vessel which sank at around the same time and which locals believe is loaded with gold and diamonds.

The three men have always insisted their innocence since they were arrested in May 2002 in Corrubedo in Galicia.

"We are now convicted criminals in Spain but relieved that after seven years the ordeal is finally over and we won't have to go to prison," Malcolm Cubin, one of the three men, told reporters after the court issued its sentence.

"We're disappointed because it's not what we wanted at all and still maintain we did nothing wrong, but there was nothing else we could do," the online edition of the Daily Telegraph quoted him as saying.

AFP / Expatica

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