Spanish music maestro in £2.7m swindle

Former Barcelona concert hall director admits stealing funds over 30-year period
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The Independent Online

Catalonia's high-minded cultural elite, renowned for its exquisite taste and probity, has been shocked to discover that the former director of Barcelona's Palace of Music, a symbol of regional identity and an architectural jewel, had swindled the concert hall out of more than €3m (£2.7m).

Felix Millet has admitted misappropriating millions from the city's artistic flagship for his own benefit over 30 years. The most scandalous example was the sale, one day before the police came knocking with a search warrant, of one of his own properties to the music hall for €1.5m.

Mr Millet outlined details of his spectacular fraud in a letter to a Barcelona judge, written on his lawyer's advice, whose contents became public this week. The 74-year-old was forced to resign in July when details of the suspected fraud began to emerge. Tax authorities had become suspicious of the vast quantities of €500 notes Mr Millet was shovelling into his accounts, at least one reportedly in Switzerland, and they alerted the police.

His successor, Joan Llinares, said he was "incredulous that, for three decades, nobody in the institution realised that Felix Millet was diverting money... There was blind confidence in this person".

Huge sums were contributed over the years by sponsors, political institutions and public subscriptions to restore the building's lost splendour after decades of neglect during the Franco dictatorship. Investigations will now focus on how much went into Mr Millet's pocket. "The court must decide if this is an imprisonable crime," Mr Llinares said.

Extraordinarily, Mr Millet paid himself a director's salary of €1.6m a year in cash – keeping it in a strongbox in a Catalan savings bank. He augmented that income with a bonus of €690,000 he awarded himself last year to mark the Palau de la Musica's centenary. When police went to seize the contents of the strongbox, they found their task so enormous they had to ask for a banknote counting machine. It tallied a stack of €1,831,370.

Barcelona's extravagantly decorated concert hall is a breathtaking example of early 20th-century Catalan art nouveau architecture known as modernismo. As a cultural symbol it is as potent and passionately adored among Catalans as Barcelona football club.

Mr Millet, a descendent of one of the building's founders, acknowledged he had committed "serious mistakes" and said he deeply regretted "the irregularities". These also included €1.3m spent on home improvements and taking lavish holiday excursions to the Maldives with his family costing €500,000 – all at the Palau's expense.