The hidden emporium of 'El Patriarca': 77 million in Switzerland and Luxembourg and 242 properties
The founder of the association of drug addicts El Patriarca, Lucien Engelmajer, in 1989 in Paris.
The founder of the association of drug addicts El Patriarca, Lucien Engelmajer, in 1989 in Paris.AFP

What was the main organization for the rehabilitation of drug addicts in Europe, El Patriarca, hid – at least – 77.5 million euros in Switzerland and Luxembourg through a convoluted financial network. The association accumulated, in parallel, a real estate emporium of 242 properties in 14 countries that was deployed until 1998, according to the documents to which EL PAÍS has had access.

El Patriarca changed its name to Dianova in 1998. Since then, it has been operating in Spain as a “non-profit social action” NGO. The organization has agreements with the Generalitat of Catalonia, the Álava Provincial Council, the City Council and the Community of Madrid, which has granted it 4.4 million euros since 2016 for sheltering minors with behavioral disorders and treating drug addicts.

The entity to which the NGO Dianova is heir had a total of 77.5 million euros in Switzerland and Luxembourg on March 31, 1994, according to an internal document from a financial advisory firm hired by El Patriarca. The fortune accumulated 66.7 million in 13 accounts in the Swiss banks SBS (today integrated into UBS), Banque Cantonale de Genève and BSI Genève, and 10.7 million in an institution of the Grand Duchy.

The funds, which today would be close to 122 million with the inflation update, were deposited in accounts in the name of institutions such as the Engelmajer Foundation, an entity that was incorporated in Pamplona and named after the founder of El Patriarca, Lucien Engelmajer, who passed away in Belize in 2007.

The money from Switzerland and Luxembourg for El Patriarca came from undeclared income between 1983 and 1998 from private donations and the street sale of books and magazines by drug addicts, according to two former directors who remained with the organization until 1998.

The sending of foreign currency to the Swiss country and to Luxembourg started after the landing of the association in Spain, at the beginning of the 80s, as the first president of El Patriarca confesses. “When I took office, Engelmajer came to see me in Catalonia with two Swiss bankers. I refused to participate in what they proposed to me. From then on, they made my life impossible. They mobilized hundreds of drug addicts to demonstrate in front of the family business of my family’s academies in Catalonia. They even threatened to kidnap my children”, details this former executive, who assures that in 1982 the accounts of the association in Spain accumulated six million euros.

Dianova admits to this newspaper that the founder of the entity that preceded him “created a financing system whose destiny was Switzerland.” And he acknowledges that in 1998 he received funds from the Swiss country after the name change from El Patriarca to Dianova. The director of the NGO in Spain, Gisela Hansen, maintains that the money inherited from Switzerland was used for economic aid to reintegrate 600 people, to hire 500 employees and to pay for consulting and auditing services, among other tasks. “A process of organizational change was carried out,” explains Hansen.

Parallel to the concealment of funds, which took place between 1983 and 1998, El Patriarca acquired a patrimony of 242 properties in 14 countries. Hotels, restaurants, ships, mansions, land…

Real estate shed of 39 million in 1998

The international shed was valued in 1998 at 39 million euros, according to an internal document. And in Spain it was substantiated in 56 properties with a market price of 9.1 million in 1998. The possessions included 10 villas in Palma de Mallorca, Seville and Llíria (Valencia), a pizzeria in Burjassot (Valencia), two hotels (Palma de Mallorca and Seville) and a ship, among other acquisitions.

The bulk of the investments in brick was concentrated in France, where the entity for the rehabilitation of drug addicts controlled 92 properties valued at 16.8 million euros from 25 years ago. The French real estate portfolio was spread over four warehouses, three chalets, four shops, three restaurants and a hotel.

Through a convoluted corporate skein, the network devised by Engelmajer acquired assets in Portugal (10 properties), Chile (10), Canada (13), the US (9) and Belize (2). The real estate network was also projected by Nicaragua (13 properties), Italy (7), Ireland (3), Argentina (3), Uruguay (4), Germany (2) and Belgium (2).

Dianova admits that it sold most of these properties inherited from El Patriarca. “Only the properties where a social benefit was made were preserved. The rest, those that were not related to Dianova’s activity, were sold”, indicates Hansen. The directive explains that each national association took over the inherited assets. The income from the operation was used to “finance the process of organizational change, restructuring and professionalization,” he adds.

Born in 1972 in Toulouse (France), a city located on the route of French drug addicts to Morocco, El Patriarca was the most personal project of furniture salesman Lucien Joseph Engelmajer. With an alternative formula to traditional medicine that proposed overcoming the 10-day withdrawal syndrome with infusions and baths, the organization quietly wove a network that in 1999 was substantiated in 350 centers in 18 countries. A framework with four holding companies in Luxembourg that the founder himself estimated in 1999 at 186 million euros.

In its rise, the multinational of drug addicts chained controversies. In 1987, Engelmajer declared in a court in Valladolid for usurpation of the parental authority of a 12-year-old girl in a reception center of the organization in this province. And in 2017, it emerged that a Dianova building subsidized by the Community of Madrid housed drug addicts and refugees under the same facilities.

Dianova insists on marking the distances with the institution whose relief he took over, and from which he inherited millions in financial assets and hundreds of properties. “The association I represent has nothing to do with El Patriarca,” says Hansen.

The NGO Dianova, which received between 2014 and 2016 a total of 10.5 million public money in Spain, has an agreement with the Generalitat de Catalunya (Department of Social Affairs) to treat 22 adults with addictions. It also has an agreement with the Madrid City Council to care for eight people with cognitive impairment and receives subsidies from the Community of Madrid (Ministry of Social Affairs) for managing 14 places in a center for minors with behavioral disorders.

With revenues of 3.1 million euros (17% of public subsidies) in 2020, according to its latest report, the Dianova delegation in Spain is part of an international gear with headquarters in Geneva, the city that hosted the spider web of accounts that hid the funds of El Patriarca. The director of this NGO, an entity that claims to be committed to the fight against poverty “in all its forms”, explains this coincidence: “We chose to continue with the headquarters in Switzerland because this country has a very international vocation with organizations such as United Nations or the World Health Organization (WHO).

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