MADRID (Reuters) - Spain’s socialist government has claimed ownership of Francisco Franco’s summer palace in Galicia in its latest clash with the former dictator’s descendents, who have challenged a plan to exhume his remains from a state mausoleum outside Madrid.
The decision to move Franco from his tomb in the “Valley of the Fallen”, which is carved into a mountainside to the north of the capital and seen by many Spaniards as a monument to fascism, was suspended by Spain’s Supreme Court in June pending appeals by his family.
Public opinion is still divided over the 1936 to 1939 Spanish Civil War, which tore apart families and communities, and the legacy of the ensuing far right-wing dictatorship that ended with Franco’s death in 1975.
More than half a million people died during the civil war and an estimated 150,000 were killed by Franco’s regime, while 450,000 were forced to leave Spain, historians estimate.
Spain’s Justice Ministry said in a statement on Thursday it had presented a claim to a local court in the north-west Spanish region of Galicia, arguing that the sale of the Pazo de Meiras palace to Franco was fraudulent.
“They (the government) already threatened us that there would be retaliation if we did not back down (over Valley of the Fallen) and this is part of the strategy of retaliation,” Francis Franco, one of Franco’s grandsons, told Reuters.
Acting Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said the government has a “solid argument, documents and legal position to defend public ownership” of the palace, which is advertised for sale online for more than 5 million euros ($5.6 million).
The Galician palace, which was built between 1893 and 1907, was owned by the descendants of writer Emilia Pardo Bazan and sold to a pro-Franco organization in 1938, during the civil war.
Spain’s Justice Ministry says the funds used to buy the palace were raised by forced donations from local people.
The ministry alleges that it was then sold to Franco in 1941, in what it says was a fraudulent bill of sale.
Reporting by Emma Pinedo. Additional reporting by Belén Carreño, writing by Axel Bugge, editing by Alexander Smith