Sunday 22 October 2017

Dear diary, this is how I stole €2.4m - from cathedral

The diary that Castiñeiras kept of his time at Santiago de Compostela revealed that he was not the harmless handyman he seemed...
The diary that Castiñeiras kept of his time at Santiago de Compostela revealed that he was not the harmless handyman he seemed...

James Badcock

For nearly three decades, José Manuel Fernández Castiñeiras was the trusted electrician for Spain’s holiest cathedral, known as a reliable worker who was on friendly terms with the clergy.

However, the diary that Castiñeiras kept of his time at Santiago de Compostela revealed that he was not the harmless handyman he seemed.

In between details of his humdrum daily routine, he described in a matter-of-fact way how he took advantage of lax security to steal €2.4m in cash from collection boxes.

“Go to cathedral, take €2,910 and $114, update my account books, go out and have two coffees, return to the cathedral, back to a café, chat with a priest, take a siesta, feed the animals, pick up wife from work, and do an electrical repair job,” reads his entry for January 5, 2005.

The diary entries emerged after Castiñeiras  was sentenced by a court in Galicia last week to 10 years in prison for his most audacious theft.

In 2011, he stole a priceless medieval book known as the ‘Codex Calixtinus’ from an unlocked safe in the cathedral. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

The richly decorated 225-page document includes travel advice for those on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage across Europe. Castineiras was arrested in 2012 after police found the 12th-century manuscript in a plastic bag in his garage.

Officers also found a large number of banknotes and Castineiras’s diaries - 36 volumes in which he casually described the colossal sums of money he was stealing.

He was convicted of theft and money laundering by a court in Coruna. Now in his early sixties, Castineiras began working as a self-employed electrician in the cathedral in 1980. He became a close friend of Jose Maria Diaz, who was in charge of its valuable archive.

Castineiras grew angry when Mr Diaz, who became dean in 2006, could not give him a permanent contract. The electrician was made redundant and tried to sue the cathedral, while continuing his lucrative visits to the collection boxes.

In addition to the prison sentence, the court ordered Castineiras to return euros 270,000 - equivalent to the amount of cash he attempted to launder by buying two flats in Santiago. His wife was given six months for her role in concealing the crimes, while the couple’s son, under whose name the two properties were registered, was acquitted.

Castineiras did gain a modicum of revenge. Mr Diaz had to resign as cathedral dean over the security lapses.

Telegraph.co.uk

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