On December 15, 1938, in the midst of the Civil War, Francisco Franco traveled to Galicia to receive, from the hands of a board of notables from La Coruña, the property of the Pazo de Meirás. The pompous act was recorded in the local press and in a “Parchment” in which the reasons why the old residence of Emilia Pardo Bazán was handed over to the general of the rebel army, acquired from his descendants through a controversial popular collection, was given. Forty-two years later, almost on the same dates, The Francos are forced by a court ruling to provisionally hand over the property of the Pazo to the State and the set of furniture inside. It is a turning point in history, which also opens the door to a series of judicial processes promoted by public administrations that will force the dictator’s grandchildren to defend their heritage in court.
The sentence of last September 2 fully accepted the arguments presented in his civil lawsuit by the State Attorney. The head of the Court of Instruction No. 1 of La Coruña, Marta Canales, considered that during the dictatorship the Pazo de Meirás had been managed as one more residence of the Head of State, differentiating this figure from Francisco Franco as a private person, and that they were the public coffers paid for its maintenance and improvement almost exclusively. The ruling considered residual that the dictator paid the IBI of the Pazo or the insurance. Therefore, it estimated that based on the legal principle of usucapion, that is, the continued possession of a property as owner, the State acquired the property of it, which when it became a public asset can never revert to private hands , so Franco’s heirs have no margin to claim their property. It was this, that of the usucapion, the legal argument that produced the change of ownership, against the interested account that the sentence did justice for the eventual irregular acquisition of the Pazo by Franco in 1938 (when he received it as a donation) and in 1941 (when he decided to register it in his name in the property registry through a sale).
However, The ruling cast some shadow areas that, predictably, will have to be clarified by the Provincial Court when resolving the appeal filed by the family. For example, the judge considered that the Francos had been possessors in bad faith and denied them the right to be paid the necessary maintenance expenses of Meirás since the State stopped doing so in November 1975, despite the fact that the Code Civil so establishes it. The family alleges that the Pazo completely burned down in 1978 and that its reconstruction in the 90s was carried out by Carmen Franco, without a single public euro, so they should be compensated for that concept.
The last controversy, still in dispute, has been the one referred to the furniture of Meirás. The demand of the Lawyers referred at all times to the real estate (recognized even by the attorney for the Chief State in Galicia), but the family’s capital surprise came when in a letter of precautionary measures, it requested an inventory of the goods inside the Pazo and its judicial deposit until it is settled, already with a final sentence, which objects are inalienable of the property and which belong to the Francs. Tired of lawsuits, the Francs came to propose to the State the transfer of the furniture in exchange for financial compensation, provided that it was previously recognized that they are their property. They have had no response. The State’s mind is not to pay any amount to the family, as was clear when modifying its criteria between the filing of the lawsuit and the preliminary hearing of the trial: initially, it did consider that it should compensate for the expenses, but at the last minute He chose to refuse, a change of opinion consented to by Judge Canales.
Last Friday, and following the script that has marked this entire procedure, the magistrate endorsed the claims of the State Attorney and decreed the judicial deposit of all assets located inside and outside the property, which will remain under the supervision of the Administration . In your reasoning, Judge Canales considers legitimate the State’s concern that within the inventory of assets there may be some of its property, but postponed clarifying this issue at the time of final judgment. “Could the defendants be allowed to transfer all kinds of goods, unknown, in the trucks?”, The magistrate wondered, “the answer was imposed cautiously, no; it was necessary to know what existed in Meirás ».
“It will be, after the inventory, when the State will have to state what goods it understands that they should be delivered or not”, and the Franco family “will be able to discuss which assets are part, which are not, or what they consider convenient, even denying everything.” But, the judge understood, if the inventory and subsequent deposit of all the assets were not carried out, “it could never be debated whether, for example, a shield is integrated or not in the execution and ownership of the State, because the assets would have, simply and simply, , missing”. In addition, the judge justified that the State had not claimed ownership of any personal property of Meirás since “he had not been able to enter” the property.
The Francos have only been able to withdraw from the Pazo the minimum «objects of strict personal use or that, due to its characteristics, they contribute nothing to the significance of the Pazo as an Asset of Cultural Interest, and whose removal does not compromise the possible definitive uses that are decided for the Pazo, in the event that the sentence is confirmed. That is, nothing or almost nothing. Not even his lawyers have been able to clarify how much this formula used by Judge Canales covered. On top of a closet, on a landing, there were even paddle tennis rackets.
Casa Cornide, next lawsuit
The next property in the sights of public administrations is the one known as Casa Cornide, an 18th century mansion located in the old city of La Coruña, opposite the Collegiate Church of Santa María del Campo. The historical vicissitudes were reversed to those of the Pazo de Meirás: Cornide was for a time a public good, first bought by the Ministry of National Education in 1949 to install a music conservatory there, later transferred to the Coruña City Council during the mandate of Alfonso Molina as mayor, and finally sold at public auction in 1962, when the financier Pedro Barrié de la Maza bought it for 300,000 pesetas, one of the notables who in 1938 had promoted Meirás to end up in the hands of Franco. In just two days, Barrié acquired Casa Cornide and resold it to Carmen Polo for the reduced price of 25,000 pesetas.
The Cornide House does not have the symbolic imprint of Meirás, because in fact it was not a residence that the dictator visited frequently. Quite the contrary, it was Carmen Polo who frequented it when she traveled to La Coruña after Franco’s death in November 1975 and she did not want to open the Pazo, which due to its size forced a large staff and quartermaster displacement. While in the documentation of the Civil House of the Generalissimo, abundant maintenance payments were proven in Meirás that far exceeded the needs of a residence of the Head of State, de Cornide has not found any diversion of funds. There have been records of small restoration and improvement works paid for by the City Council of La Coruña between 1962 and 1978, for a total amount of 8,105 euros. The consistory also doubts that the payment of different municipal taxes related to the property is recorded. The legal route being studied by a committee of experts promoted by the City Council (governed by the socialist Inés Rey) is how the property could be deactivated for sale at auction. It is expected that before the end of the year its conclusions will be presented. The mayor has already advanced that she will sue to recover Cornide.
The Francos put the Casa Cornide up for sale in July, in the middle of the trial for the Meirás property. In the ad, published by a well-known real estate portal, its 11 rooms, 13 bathrooms and 1,430 square meters were referred to as its main characteristics. The accompanying description alluded to an “exclusive property from 1900, renovated in 1964 and recently in 2018.” Months later, in November, the same portal dropped the requested price: 3.5 million euros.
Statues of Master Mateo
The judicial front that stalks the Francs is not only for these two properties, but also for two pieces of incalculable value: the stone sculptures of the prophets Isaac and Abraham coming out of the chisel of Master Mateo, the artist who in the 12th century molded the Pórtico de la Gloria of the Cathedral of Santiago, where these figures were initially. Who claims them as their own is the City Council of the capital of Galicia, which bought them from the Count of Ximonde in 1948 for 60,000 pesetas, and which decorated the main staircase of the Pazo de Raxoi during the following years. However, in the mid-50s they were already documented in the Meirás compound. In the seventies it is documented that they were in the interior access of the Casa Cornide, but in recent years they are located in the chapel of the Pazo, from where they have left for different exhibitions dedicated to Maestro Mateo.
The Compostela consistory accumulates to date two defeats in courts of Madrid to claim ownership of the statues. In February 2019, a judge rejected his claim in the first instance on understanding that the Francos had acquired the property by usucapion, even reproaching the City Council for “neglect” in protecting their heritage. In December of that same year, the Madrid Provincial Court again agreed with the dictator’s family, this time changing the argument: Santiago would not have been able to prove that the statues he claims are the same ones that decorate the Meirás chapel. . The judicial process, initiated by the previous mayor of Compostela, the populist Martiño Noriega, has been maintained by the current councilor, the socialist Xosé Sánchez Bugallo, with an appeal to the Supreme Court and the constitution of a committee of experts to address a new process in first instance, after unpublished documentation appeared in the municipal archives. The two statues are declared Assets of Cultural Interest, so the Francs have limited capacity to dispose of them based on what is established by regional legislation.