Spain opens fraud case on ex-Bankia chief Rato
MADRID, (Reuters) – A Spanish court opened a fraud case yesterday against former executives of state-rescued lender Bankia, including one-time IMF chief Rodrigo Rato, as public rage engulfs a bank which is in line for the biggest share of an EU bailout.
The lawsuit was brought by one of Spain’s smaller political parties and accuses 33 officials including Rato – a former government minister who stood down as Bankia chairman in May – of fraud, price-fixing and falsifying accounts.
Under Spanish law, the crimes carry jail sentences ranging from six months to six years but commentators said that while corporate corruption cases grab the headlines in Spain, they rarely resulted in convictions.
“It will be a long-running, complicated case,” said Pedro Schwartz, economics professor at San Pablo University in Madrid. Spaniards are angry with the political and business elites in general as the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has imposed austerity policies and had to seek European Union aid to save a series of banks including Bankia from collapse.
Fury is particularly directed at Bankia as hundreds of thousands of small savers were persuaded to buy shares in the lender when it was floated on the stock market in 2011, only to see their investments all but wiped out in less than a year.Protesters have staged street demonstrations in their thousands, banging pots and pans and blowing whistles outside Bankia branches.
“There are many citizens who feel they were hoodwinked,” said Joaquim Bosch, spokesman for judges group ‘Judges for Democracy’. “It’s too early to say whether there were crimes committed or criminal responsibilities, but it calls for a thorough investigation.”