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Queen Letizia and Prince Charles inaugurate first UK museum of Spanish art

Queen Letizia of Spain teamed up with Britain's Prince Charles on Tuesday to inaugurate the first UK museum dedicated exclusively to Spanish art, which is part of an ambitious town regeneration effort.

Queen Letizia and Prince Charles inaugurate first UK museum of Spanish art
Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Spain's Queen Letizia (L) at the opening of The Spanish Art Gallery in Bishop Aukland, north east England on April 5, 2022. (Photo by RUSSELL CHEYNE / POOL / AFP)

Letizia, 49, and the 73-year-old British heir to the throne visited the new “Spanish Gallery” in Bishop Auckland, in northeast England, which boasts one of Europe’s best-preserved bishop’s palaces.

The gallery is home to around 120 works by great Spanish masters of the 16th and 17th centuries, from El Greco and Murillo to Velasquez and Juan de Juanes.

It is inspired by an exceptional collection of paintings by fellow Spaniard Francisco de Zurbaran, which have sat for centuries in the nearby castle.

Philanthropist Jonathan Ruffer and his wife Jane, who are behind the new showcase, purchased the 12 paintings as well as the palace in 2012 after learning the artworks were for sale.

The painting had resided there since a powerful local bishop acquired them in 1756, but were in danger of being uprooted from their longtime home.Jonathan of 70 years was unable to attend after contracting Covid-19.

Britain’s Prince Charles, Prince of Wales (C) and Spain’s Queen Letizia (R) walk through The Spanish Art Gallery in Bishop Aukland. (Photo by RUSSELL CHEYNE / POOL / AFP)

Jonathan Ruffer, 70, was unable to attend after contracting Covid-19.

“He tought it was a real shame, a sadness for the town, and so he thought we should buy the paintings,” Jane Ruffer told reporters on the fringes of the royals’ visit.

“In the end, we got the paintings and the castle and the grounds,” she explained.

“The question then was what to do with it?”

Jane Ruffer noted that the town had traditionally served the castle and its bishop over the centuries, but the couple wanted to reverse that with their present-day venture.

A decade and £200 million pounds ($262 million, 240 million euros) later, the palace now comprises galleries, gardens and parks, with the Zurbarán paintings on display there.

It opened to the public in 2019 after a lengthy restoration, and together with the new Spanish Gallery in the town centre, are “a long-term project” for the couple.

The gallery, which first welcomed visitors in October, is now Britain’s largest collection of Golden Age paintings outside London and the only museum in the country devoted to Spanish art.

“Some (museums) have a room, but the Meadows (Museum) in Texas and this here are the only dedicated Spanish galleries,” said Ruffer, who spent a decade alongside her husband finding and acquiring the pieces at auction

Home to around 24,000 people, Bishop Auckland has been in decline since the closure of the coal mines at the end of the last century and now suffers from high unemployment.

The Ruffers are hoping the sites will become atractions drawing in tourists, helping to boost the local economy and the need for hotels, restaurants and other enterprises.

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CORRUPTION

Spain shelves probe into €7-billion Saudi rail project contract

Spanish prosecutors have dropped a probe into suspicions Spanish firms paid kickbacks to secure a contract to build a high-speed rail link in Saudi Arabia, a ruling made public Thursday showed.

Spain shelves probe into €7-billion Saudi rail project contract

In 2011, Saudi Arabia awarded the contract worth €6.8 billion($7.2 billion) to a consortium of 12 Spanish companies and two Saudi firms to build the railway linking Islam’s holiest cities, Mecca and Medina.

Spanish prosecutors opened an investigation into the deal after a former mistress of Spain’s former king Juan Carlos was heard in a telephone conversation discussing commissions which were allegedly paid to secure the contract.

Anti-corruption prosecutors decided to shelve the probe “as it was not possible to determine the possible commission of the criminal offence”, according to the ruling dated May 4th.

The information which was gathered is “clearly insufficient”, and was “in part contradictory”, it added.

Juan Carlos was the target of a separate probe over the high-speed railway contract.

The investigation centred on $100 million Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah deposited into a Swiss bank account in 2008, to which Juan Carlos had access.

A unit of the highspeed train built by Spanish manufacturer Talgo is loaded onto a freighter in Barcelona’s port in 2014. (Photo by JOSEP LAGO / AFP)

Prosecutors dropped the probe in March, saying the could not establish “any link” between the receipt of the money and the awarding of the contract.

Swiss prosecutors had also opened a probe into the same issue in 2018 but dropped the case in December for lack of evidence.

Saudi Arabia opened the 444-kilometre (275-mile) railway to the public in October 2018. It has improved transport connections between Mecca and Medina during the annual haj pilgrimage.

Spanish construction and engineering firm OHL, train maker Talgo and state track operator Adif were among the firms which made part of the consortium that built the railway.

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