MADRID: Two days before he quit in May 2012 as chairman of Bankia — the lender then on the verge of Spain’s costliest ever bailout — Rodrigo Rato took out 1,000 euros ($1,300) in cash on a company credit card.
It was his sixteenth withdrawal for that amount in three months, in addition to around 1,500 euros spent on the card in garden centres, restaurants and a tailor, according to documents filed with the Spanish High Court as part of an investigation into whether cards held by Rato and dozens of other former board members and executives were misused for personal expenses.
The splurges have sparked fury among Spaniards, who suffered a deep recession after the country’s weakest banks were bailed out by European partners to the tune of more than 40 billion euros, and many of whom lost money in the collapse of Bankia.
But the case has also raised hopes the financial crisis is finally catching up with bankers and that, with support for anti-establishment parties on the rise, the authorities will at last take a tougher line on corruption.
Judges have ordered Rato, a former International Monetary Fund chief, and Miguel Blesa — who chaired savings bank Caja Madrid before it was merged with others to form Bankia in 2010 — to deposit millions of euros with the High Court by Wednesday to cover possible civil penalties, or face having assets seized.
“There is a greater sensitivity now among judges, even among politicians,” said Fernando Jimenez, a political scientist and corruption expert at the University of Murcia, highlighting that Spain’s opposition Socialist party had kicked out some members caught up in the credit cards probe.
“That kind of thing would have been unthinkable even five years ago,” he added.
Rato, a stalwart of the ruling centre-right People’s Party (PP) and a former finance minister, late on Monday asked for a temporary suspension of his PP membership while the case rumbles on, as pressure grew for him to be expelled.