POLICE in Spain have arrested 14 people after uncovering an alleged huge fraud where bodies were cremated in cheap coffins despite their loved ones paying for more expensive alternatives.
Investigators claim the funeral directors in the northern Castilla y Leon region of Spain switched the coffins and then resold them. Wreaths were even resold for profit it is suggested.
Twelve men and two women who own or work for the funeral directors have been held by police.
Officials are analysing eight computers and a server that were confiscated as part of the ongoing operation to try and discover the size of the fraud which could date back as far as 1995. Police have said that further arrests have not been ruled out
Regional government spokesman Virginia Barcones said that nearly a million euros in cash had been seized during one of the police searches.
“This case centres on a repeated alleged fraud, namely the substitution of a high-quality and expensive coffin for a lower-quality cheaper one with the aim of reselling the more expensive one.
“The switch was allegedly carried out before incinerations.
“Identical practices allegedly occurred with the wreaths which instead of being incinerated with the dead, were removed before incineration and taken back to the funeral parlour to be subsequently resold.
“The period that is being investigated runs from 1995 to 2015. It is very difficult to calculate the size of the alleged fraud but we are looking at thousands of cases and millions of euros.”
The firm at the centre of the investigations has funeral homes in Valladolid, Medina de Rioseco, Tudela de Duero, Peñafiel and Mojados.
The owners have blamed a former worker they say was convicted of extortion after blackmailing them.
In a statement they said: “All the crematoriums of the group have rooms where relatives of the deceased can see the coffins before they enter the cremation area.”