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Spain takes Franco's family to court over summer house 'obtained through fraud'

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Originally built in the 19th century, Pazo de Meirás in Galicia was obtained by Franco in the 1940s
Originally built in the 19th century, Pazo de Meirás in Galicia was obtained by Franco in the 1940s   -   Copyright  Lois Chantada/Wikimedia/Creative Commons
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A Spanish court is hearing a petition this week over a castle used as a summer house by the country’s former dictator Francisco Franco.

Pazo de Meirás, in Galicia, north-western Spain, is currently owned by Franco’s heirs, but the government says it should return to public ownership, claiming the family obtained it through fraud and extortion.

The mock-medieval building was completed in 1907 and was sold, along with 16 acres of land, to an association of Franco supporters in 1938.

Spain’s socialist government claims it was sold on to Franco three years later at a fraction of its price and argues state-appointed guards protected it for many years after his death.

But Luis Felipe Utrera, a lawyer for the Franco family, said they remained the legal owners of the property and have looked after it for decades.

"Our clients are the legitimate owners who have been keeping and paying all the taxes of the Pazo de Meirás for the last 45 years,” he said.

General Franco's legacy

Franco ruled Spain for nearly four decades following the end of the country’s civil war in 1939.

Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in the conflict, in which Franco’s Nationalists fought against left-leaning Republicans and Communists, mostly supported by the Soviet Union.

Spain embraced democracy in the years following Franco’s 1975 death.

Following a protracted legal battle, his body was exhumed last year and relocated away from a state mausoleum near Madrid.

The court battles reflect the continuing divisions in Spanish society, nearly 45 years after the dictator’s death.

Benito Portela, the mayor of Sada, where Franco’s summer house is based, said this week’s hearing was part of an important historical process.

“This must serve to recover the dignity and memory of all the victims of the regime,” he said.