Government goes into damage control mode to protect Rato
Socialists want their targeted Bankia members to resign
Government “not against” Congress inquiry, but it is not best route, says official
The Popular Party (PP) on Thursday initiated a damage control campaign to play down the High Court’s investigation into Bankia’s former chairman Rodrigo Rato and 32 others who were officially named as suspects in an inquiry surrounding the collapse last May of Spain’s fourth-largest lender.
Many in the PP are reportedly divided on whether the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy allowed Rato, a former economy minister and influential party member, to fall by the wayside or if he is simply being treated unfairly by the High Court.
At the same time, the Socialist Party began applying pressure on those of its members who were named as official targets in the inquiry to resign, not only from their posts on the boards of Bankia and its parent company, Banco Financiero y de Ahorros (BFA), but also to set aside their party memberships until the matter is cleared up. The PP at this moment does not have plans to suspend any of its members whose names appear in the High Court order, reports Europa Press, citing party sources.
On Wednesday, High Court Judge Fernando Andreu formally named as suspects 33 former and current board members of Bankia and BFA after agreeing to accept a criminal complaint filed on June 11 by the UPyD party regarding Bankia’s meltdown. Among the possible charges listed in the 49-page order are alleged swindling and falsification of documents. There is staunch resistance from the PP against the Bankia inquiry making it to the floor of Congress after the United Left (IU) publicly demanded that lawmakers conduct hearings.
Bankia, which reportedly has some 30 billion euros in losses, mostly from sour real estate loans, was taken over in May by the Bank of Spain in what is being billed as the biggest financial fiasco in Spanish history. Rato was forced out days later.
PP congressional spokesman Alfonso Alonso said his party “is not absolutely closed off” to finding out how Bankia ended up with a 30-billion-euro hole, but doesn’t think that setting up a congressional committee is the best way to go about it. “You can’t use these things in a partisan fashion to bang heads together and turn this into a parliamentary spectacle,” he said.
“We are witnessing the biggest swindle in the history of democracy in this country,” said IU national coordinator Cayo Lara on Thursday.
Rajoy has not publicly come out in defense of Rato but on Thursday three of his Cabinet members spoke about the case with the former economy minister on their minds. The officials — none of them in charge of law enforcement duties or judicial or economic affairs — all played down in separate interviews the inquiry opened against Rato, their friend and fellow PP member who served under ex-Prime Minister José María Aznar.
Miguel Arias Cañete, the agriculture, food and environment minister, accused Rosa Díez and her UPyD party of having “certain interests” in filing the complaint against Rato. In a radio interview, Cañete also said that “some judges get ahead of themselves” and can cause “irreparable damage” to individuals.
“In these types of cases, you have a lot of investigating to do beforehand and from there you can decide who are the people, if there are any, responsible for the actions,” he said, adding that a High Court announcement of a person being an official target of an investigation is only of “journalistic importance.”
José Ignacio Wert, the education and culture minister, also played down the target implication filed against the board members, including former PP Interior Minister Ángel Acebes, who served on the BFA board, saying that “it is not incompatible with the presumption of innocence” until proven guilty.
“The judge has made a decision for the benefit of due process of the persons involved, by considering them targets of the investigation, so they can appear before him accompanied by their lawyers," Wert said in another radio interview.
Those named in Judge Andreu’s order will begin appearing before him from July 23.
Arturo Fernández, the vice president of the businessmen’s confederation CEOE and president of the Madrid confederation of businesses, CEIM, said Thursday he wasn’t concerned about being named as a suspect in the Bankia inquiry, stating “there were no irregularities or crimes committed.”
But the opening of the case continued to claim more heads at the banks and in other companies. Juan Llopart Pérez, another Bankia board member, presented his resignation as board member of olive oil company Deoleo, manufacturer of the Carbonell and Koipe brands in which BFA was a major stockholder.
Francisco Verdú, who just days ago told Bankia’s new chairman, José Ignacio Goirigolzarri, that he expected to be charged in the case, also presented his resignation on Thursday.
Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo said he wasn’t against Congress opening up its own investigation but that he would prefer it to be done by the courts.
“In terms of efficiency and for citizens to remain assured, there should be an investigation so that the cost of the crisis doesn’t fall back on the shoulders of taxpayers,” the foreign minister said.
Referring to Rato, García-Margallo acknowledged that there was “consternation over the delicate situation” of someone who has been a colleague “for a long time.” When asked whether this investigation would hurt Rato, the foreign minister said: “We have to wait to see the results of the inquiry.”