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Gang accused of €3.5 million ticket scam at Alhambra

Public prosecutors want the 45 defendants to pay Granada tourist site €6.6m in damages

A group of tourists photographs the inside of the Alhambra. Ampliar foto
A group of tourists photographs the inside of the Alhambra.

Public prosecutors say that between 2002 and 2005, a 45-strong network of tour guides, hoteliers, travel agents, and monument employees made around €3.5 million from selling entrance tickets to the Alhambra palace in Granada.The alleged scam involved hoteliers and travel agents taking the money for entry tickets from groups of tourists, and then cutting a deal with staff at the Moorish complex, one of Spain’s most-visited historical sites, who would let them in, either without tickets or using forgeries.

After a 10-year investigation, public prosecutors are calling for prison sentences of between four and nine years, along with heavy fines, for the accused. On top of the €3.5 million they are charged with making from the fraud, public prosecutors want the 45 to pay a further €3.1 million, which includes material damage to the site, as well as harm caused to its image internationally.

During the period in question, the number of people allowed into the Unesco World Heritage Site –  between 2,000 and 3,000 a day – was regularly exceeded by up to 50 percent, say prosecutors.

Prosecutors say the number of people allowed into the heritage site was regularly exceeded by up to 50 percent

Over the last three years, visitor numbers have fallen slightly at the monument, which was originally constructed in 889, and rebuilt in the early 14th century. But the site’s management says the fall in numbers has not been a problem in terms of takings. The diversification of activities on offer has allowed the figures to match earnings forecasts.

The Alhambra is one of the most in-demand destinations in Spain, particularly for European tourists. Germans and the French top the list, while North Americans make up the largest group of visitors from outside the EU.

One of Spain’s most lucrative monuments, the Alhambra last year received an annual budget of €25 million from the state. In addition to revenue from ticket sales, it also relies on income from donations and sales of books and merchandise.