Thu, Jan 16, 2014 - Page 7 News List

Spanish mayors win lottery, sparking fight for prize

The Guardian, MADRID

An effort to spread a little cheer in northern Spain has instead pitted hundreds of small town mayors against each other and sparked a debate that has gone all the way to the national public prosecutor.

Vicente Producciones Artisticas, a firm that organizes parties, marked the holidays the same way it has for more than 15 years: by giving gift packages to its clients, including the mayors of more than 300 municipalities and districts.

In each package was a calendar and a few shares of a ticket in El Gordo — the “Fat One” Christmas lottery — a common gift in Spain.

This year, the ticket turned out to be a winner, earning the company’s clients an estimated 5 million euros (US$6.8 million) altogether. Most mayors received at least 5,000 euros, with many getting much more.

In crisis-stricken Spain, the initial excitement was dampened by confusion, with residents asking who the money actually belongs to.

“All of it will be for my village,” Ruerrero Mayor Julio Espinosa, who oversees a municipality of 50 people in Cantabria, told El Pais.

The 12,500 euros he received will go toward local fiestas and supporting the town’s elderly. Espinosa was one of the first mayors to declare his winnings and where they would be going, and a handful of mayors soon followed his example.

Valderredible Mayor Fernando Fernandez told reporters that each mayor was free to do “whatever they want to do” with the proceeds, leading many to report that he was keeping his gift. Fernandez declined to specify how much he had received or to give any interviews.

Vicente Producciones Artisticas also weighed in, saying in a statement that the gifts were given “on a personal level, so that each recipient could use the money in the way they see fit, as a thank you for their work, dedication and collaboration.”

“The majority of us think that the money belongs to the villages,” said Xavier Murgui of Valcampoo, an association representing many of the municipalities involved. “It was villagers who paid the company’s contracts.”

He was worried that some mayors might get away with keeping the money, since most of the towns are so small residents could fear speaking out.

Another resident put it more bluntly, telling El Pais: “If residents don’t defend the mayor, maybe [the] next day their cattle will be set loose or their land might catch fire.”

After failing to find a definitive legal answer, Valcampoo took the issue to Spain’s public prosecutor.

The group was told it would need to go to court for answers, Murgui said, but added: “We don’t have the funds to take on the case.”

The group instead changed strategies and was to present draft legislation yesterday on “good conduct for politicians” to the parliament of Cantabria, setting out guidelines on how these gifts should be handled.

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