Spanish ‘Robin Hood’ swindled banks of nearly $700,000 — and then gave it away


Courtesy of Enric Duran.

Few economies in Europe have taken a bigger drubbing than Spain’s. After the 2008 economic collapse, which hit the Mediterranean country particularly hard and spurred a real estate market collapse, its trade deficit surged.

Then the government passed its harshest austerity measures in a generation. Unemployment overtook 55 percent of its youth, 26 percent of the overall population, and last year Spain posted some of the highest unemployment rates in Europe.

Things have gotten so serious, there’s even movement away from the siesta to boost economic activity.

Out of the nation’s economic mess has risen a semi-mythologized character — Enric Duran. Few, however, know him by that name. Rather, he’s called “Spain’s Robin Hood,” or “Robin Bank.”

Robin Bank is a scowling 37-year-old with a scraggly beard and an incredible story. And if there’s one thing he purports to hate, it’s capitalism. Several years ago, this table tennis coach turned folk hero took out 68 loans in the amount of a half million Euros — nearly $700,000 — at 39 banks with every intention of never paying any of it back. Then he says to have funneled the booty to activists inveighing against what they considers Spain’s corrupt capitalist system. Several recently came forward to claim they received some of the money.

This week, he granted a rare interview to the Guardian, one of the first he’s given since going into hiding last year. “I saw that on one side, these social movements were building alternatives but that they lacked resources and communication capacities,” he said from what the paper described as an “undisclosed location.” “Meanwhile, our reliance on perpetual growth was creating a system that created money out of nothing.”

So how was a ping-pong teacher, a profession not exactly known to be lucrative, able to secure nearly $700,000 in loans? It’s complicated, and also a little unclear from reports and his Web site, which is long on economic manifestos but short on biographic information.

What is clear: At some point in the mid-2000s, Duran, who had participated in several anti-capitalist protests, became profoundly unsatisfied with capitalism. In 2006, the Catalan reportedly deployed what the Guardian calls “an intricate web of accounts, payments and transfers” to bamboozle the banks. “I was learning constantly,” Duran said, adding that within years he starting applying for loans under a fake TV production company. “Then I managed to get a lot.”

Over the next few months, as the fiscal crisis plunged Spain into its darkest days, he claims he parceled out most of the $680,000 to anti-capitalist activists and media companies hurting for equipment. In 2008, he released a video, saying, “I have robbed 490,000 euros from those who rob us the most, in order to denounce them and build alternatives for society.”

He later told El Pais in a lengthy interview: “I knew that this crisis would come one day. Capitalism is all over the planet and resources are finite. … Banks are the prime responsible for this crisis. We must invent a financial system that does not create money out of nothing.”

The banks weren’t nearly as moved by what he implied was an act of heroism. He was arrested in 2009, and spent two months in jail after six of the 39 banks he snookered brought charges against him. He got out on bail, but then last February, he decided to disappear, rather than go to trial. “I don’t see legitimacy in a judicial system based on authority, because I don’t recognize its authority,” Duran told the Guardian.

His beliefs haven’t softened in his exile. “It’s been 365 days living underground, protecting from the trenches, the freedom which means not being subject to the designs of a state that I never wished to be part of,” he wrote on his Web site in February. “Every day which passes gives more legitimacy to the actions we have taken and the ones we are planning in the future.”

He didn’t spill any of those plans to the Guardian. But he also didn’t back off his thievery. He claimed to be a catalyst of anti-capitalism in Spain. “The people in Spain who believe that banks don’t work, they think that I don’t owe anything,” he said. “I’ve already done my work.”

Terrence McCoy is a foreign affairs writer at the Washington Post. He served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Cambodia and studied international politics at Columbia University. Follow him on Twitter here.
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