Ex-IMF head in Spain court over credit card scandal

16th October 2014, Comments 0 comments

Ex-IMF head Rodrigo Rato went before a judge Thursday over allegations that he and other former executives at a bailed-out Spanish bank went on lavish spending sprees with company credit cards.

The 65-year-old went to court along with two other former executives for questioning by a judge investigating Bankia, the group whose near-collapse sparked a 41-billion-euro ($52 billion) bailout for Spain's financial sector.

The three were met by yells of "Thieves!" from protesters who say they lost their savings when Bankia collapsed in 2012.

Audit documents submitted by prosecutors to the court detailed a total of more than 15 million euros of suspect spending with credit cards by former managers of the group, which Rato headed from 2010 to 2012.

Prosecutors said the credit cards were used for personal purchases with media reports detailing spending on safaris, meals at luxury restaurants, art, clothing and massive cash withdrawals.

Rato made no comment as he arrived shortly before 5:00 pm (1500 GMT) at the National Court, Spain's top criminal tribunal, for questioning by Judge Fernando Abreu.

The judge also questioned Miguel Blesa, the former head of Caja Madrid which is part of the Bankia group, and Caja Madrid's former financial director Ildefonso Sanchez.

The three face possible charges of misappropriation of company funds and embezzlement.

Questioned before Rato, Sanchez told the judge he introduced the system of credit cards and that they were only used for professional entertaining expenses, a judicial source said.

The prosecution's audit covered more than 80 users of the credit cards -- many of them connected to politics, trade unions and even the royal family -- and has put Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative Popular Party, which Rato belongs to, on the defensive.

- Cash, wine, jewellery -

Rato served from 2004 to 2007 as managing director of the International Monetary Fund, the worldwide lender that played a key role in tackling the eurozone debt crisis.

He was finance minister in Jose Maria Aznar's conservative government, which was in office from 1996 to 2004, and served as chief executive of Caja Madrid before holding the top post at Bankia until shortly before it was rescued by the Spanish government in 2012.

The scandal has fuelled indignation in Spain, where one in four workers are unemployed, ahead of a general election expected by the end of next year.

Rajoy defended himself in parliament on Wednesday, saying the government had "done everything it should do" to back the investigation of the scandal.

Spanish media reported that Blesa, who had an annual salary at Caja Madrid of around three million euros, used his card to pay for safaris in Africa and to buy 10,000 euros worth of wine.

Some reportedly used their cards to withdraw hundreds of thousands of euros in cash, sometimes in the middle of the night, and to buy jewellery, luxury clothing, furniture and expensive restaurant meals.

Some have reimbursed money they spent, according to court documents, while others have resigned.

Among the high-profile resignations is that of Rafael Spottorno, an advisor to King Felipe VI who was formerly a manager at a benevolent foundation run by Caja Madrid.

Prosecutors accuse Rato of carrying out 99,000 euros of personal spending with his card. He has repaid nearly 55,000 euros.

In July 2012, nearly three dozen former Bankia executives, including Rato, appeared in court as part of a criminal probe into whether they misrepresented Bankia's financial soundness as the bank was preparing its 2011 public stock offering.

The former Bankia executives denied wrongdoing in that case, which is ongoing.

© 2014 AFP

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