The 7th Investigative Court of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria has opened a preliminary investigation into the Social Response Foundation Siglo XXI and four of its directors. The Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office in Las Palmas filed a complaint against them, alleging crimes that could include forgery of commercial documents, mismanagement, and embezzlement of public funds. The investigation aims to determine whether this nonprofit organisation, and its officials, could have misused public funds intended for the care of unaccompanied migrant minors, during the migration crisis of 2020 that was precipitated by the pandemic confinement on the islands, leading to a build up of arrivals having to be assessed and cared for by the Canary Islands Regional Government, using hotels left empty due to the lack of tourism. The estimated amount involved in the alleged misuse stands at around €12.5 million between 2020 and 2022 on Gran Canaria alone.
The complaint highlights a lack of supervision and control by the Canary Islands’ Government Ministry of Social Rights, Equality, Diversity, and Youth, which was responsible for processing the emergency contracts. The prosecutor alleges a failure to adequately monitor the execution of the association’s contracts and an absence of penalties for non-compliance.
The investigation, which began in January 2022 and has lasted 16 months, focused on the banking activities of the Social Response Foundation Siglo XXI, as well as several centres for unaccompanied minors in Las Palmas and Lanzarote. The personal bank accounts of the directors were also examined.
According to the complaint, the some public funds were allegedly diverted public funds into the personal accounts of directors, who may have used them for their own benefit instead of the intended purpose of caring for the minors. The investigation found evidence of substantial diversion of public funds, with the directors falsely attributing expenses to investments at the centres to conceal personal use of public monies.
The prosecutor explains that the foundation received €95 per day from the government for each unaccompanied minor. However, after transferring the funds, the Ministry of Social Rights, Equality, Diversity, and Youth allegedly failed to oversee the use of the budget, allowing for potential misuse of the allocated funds.
The investigation reveals that the foundation subsequently deposited an amount into directors’ personal accounts that did not correspond to the funds received from the government. This practice continued until the directors’ personal accounts were closed. At that point, the foundation opened official accounts and authorised the directors to manage the budget. Numerous invoices were then submitted, some with expenses apparently unrelated to the institution’s activities and others with seemingly inflated prices.
The prosecutor’s complaint emphasises the lack of supervision and control by the Ministry of Social Rights, Equality, Diversity, and Youth. This absence of oversight measures, with no penalties for non-compliance, contributed to the alleged mismanagement of funds.
The so-called Menas case, as it is known, joins other ongoing cases such as Mascarillas (where faulty masks were allegedly purchased with public money without oversight or control) and Mediador (investigating abuse of authority, influence peddling and alleged embezzlement of public development funds in handing out contracts without oversight), which have caused significant controversy in the Canarian government over the past year. The prosecutor believes that the lack of oversight and mismanagement of public funds in the Menas case may have resulted in inefficiency and incorrect utilisation of taxpayer money.
The court will now proceed with the investigation to determine the extent of the alleged misappropriation of funds and the responsibility of the foundation and its directors. If found guilty, they may face charges of forgery, mismanagement, and embezzlement of public funds. The outcome of the case will shed light on the management practices within the Social Response Foundation 21st Century and raise questions about the effectiveness of oversight mechanisms within the Ministry of Social Rights, Equality, Diversity, and Youth.