Guggenheim sues ex-finance boss who admitted stealing £400,000

Spain's cultural world is reeling with shock and dismay after the announcement that Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum is suing its finance director for embezzling €500,000 (£400,000).

Robert Cearsolo, 48, who controlled the financial operations of the renowned cultural landmark until he was sacked this week, confessed his misdeeds in a soul-baring letter to the museum's director and long-time collaborator, Juan Ignacio Vidarte.

"I have been appropriating for my personal benefit various sums of money from the museum since 1998... to the value of €486,979.30. On some occasions, I used bank transfers, and on others I used cheques that I signed as if I were the authorised person [ie the director]," Mr Cearsolo wrote.

He enclosed details of sums he had siphoned off over the years, and confessed he had falsified the museum's annual statements of accounts.

The scandal is a serious blow to the titanium-clad marvel that symbolises Bilbao's phoenix-like rise from industrial decline, and which has put the city on the tourist map. "Guggenheim Bilbao has lost some of the brilliance that made it a world reference point," the Bilbao daily El Correo wrote yesterday. "The black mark has nothing to do with art, but with an ordinary swindling of accounts," the paper lamented.

Basque authorities moved swiftly to try to limit the damage inflicted to the reputation of Frank Gehry's futuristic creation. The alleged crime "very seriously damages an institution like the Guggenheim, which we all consider one of the symbols of identity of the Basque Country in the 21st century," said the Basque socialist party spokesman, Jose Antonio Pastor. "We must take immediate steps to safeguard the prestige of an institution now in jeopardy, and demand a speedy legal investigation."

The region's culture secretary, Miren Azkarate, hoped the crisis "would not besmirch a brilliant project, and that the museum would continue to be the flagship of our country".

The disgraced Mr Cearsolo had championed the museum since 1992, when it was but a gleam in the eye of Basque visionaries. He had been Mr Vidarte's right-hand man since it opened in 1997, and ran the publicly funded holding companies that acquired artworks and property for the museum.

The inside job was uncovered by chance during an audit this month by the Basque authorities, who own the museum. Mr Cearsolo was sacked on Tuesday, Mr Vidarte told his stunned staff. "Please accept my apologies for the actions of a person in whom I had full confidence," a devastated Mr Vidarte said on Wednesday. "I hope this episode is considered an isolated case that doesn't involve anyone else on the staff."

Mr Cearsolo enclosed a cheque for €252,000 with his letter to Mr Vidarte, and promised to return the rest within three months. He concluded by apologising, and added: "Given that I could not bear the situation any longer, I have decided to confess the facts to you."

Mr Cearsolo – who was also responsible for handling the museum's investments – made the controversial decision in 2002 to buy US dollars to acquire works of art, expecting the dollar to rise against the euro. Instead, it fell, causing losses to the museum of at least €6m.

It was while provincial auditors were analysing that scandal last year that the latest irregularities came to light, leading to the museum's own inquiry. Mr Vidarte said he regretted not having ordered external audits more often.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine