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Spanish ‘charity scam’ father handed five years jail

Published on November 16, 2018

A father who caused an uproar in Spain after he used his daughter’s rare illness to raise money for mainly personal use was sentenced to five years in jail, court officials said Wednesday.

His wife was also jailed by the court in the northeastern city of Lleida for three-and-a-half years, they added.

The case of the young Nadia Nerea, who suffers from a potentially life-threatening genetic disorder, moved the country several years ago when her father Fernando Blanco went from one media outlet to another to publicise her case.

Considered a hero, Blanco, 53, had asked for donations to allegedly help pay for a pioneering operation in Houston in the United States that could save her life.

But at the end of 2016, it emerged that of the 422,000 euros ($485,000) raised by his foundation since 2014, just 20,000 euros were destined to his daughter, according to investigators.

The rest was used to rent homes, buy vehicles, luxury watches or pay for hotels.

Blanco and Nadia’s mother Margarita Garau were found guilty of “aggravated fraud” for “using the illness of the daughter as a ploy to get money from others by way of donations.”

Doctors had supposedly told Blanco his daughter would die from trichothiodystrophy, which in severe cases causes delayed development, intellectual disability, and recurrent infections that can lead to death at an early age.

The father claimed he had travelled all over the world and contacted the best specialists, including an eminent geneticist who lived in a cave in Afghanistan.

But in December 2016, the Spanish media outlets El Pais and Hipertextual cast serious doubt on the story.

They said there was no proof of his travels, the hospital in Houston did not exist, nor did the alleged pioneering treatment, and Nadia was not in danger of dying.

This prompted a probe for alleged fraud.

Police eventually detained Blanco after he fled a police check near the border with France.

He had on him 1,450 euros in cash, two watches, various electronic devices and a blank firing gun, the police said.

Police also raided the family home in Catalonia where they found some 30 luxury watches worth 50,000 euros, laptops, high-end mobiles and marijuana.