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Miguel Blesa: a symbol of all that went wrong in Spanish banking

Autopsy confirms suicide of former Caja Madrid chief, who was found dead on Wednesday

Madrid / Villanueva del Rey

“Rafa, do you have my wife’s number, in case you need to call her?” Those were the last words that Miguel Blesa, the former chairman of the Caja Madrid savings bank, said to Rafael Alcaide, an engineer at an Andalusian country estate named Puerto del Toro, in Córdoba province, as both men shared breakfast early Wednesday morning.

Miguel Blesa's body is taken away after undergoing an autopsy.
Miguel Blesa's body is taken away after undergoing an autopsy.

After that, the 69-year-old banker said he was going to the garage to move his car before going out on a hunting expedition. The next time anyone saw him, he was lying on the garage floor with a bullet wound to his chest.

An employee of the 1,600-hectare estate called the emergency services at 7.50am. Medics dispatched to the scene confirmed that Blesa died at 8.40am.

Blesa became a near-comic book villain thanks to his emails gloating about African hunting trips and expensive wines

An autopsy performed on Thursday has confirmed that Blesa committed suicide. Coroners said that there was just one bullet wound on the left side of the chest, no signs of struggle, and that the location of the wound suggests a deliberate shot.

Investigators posit that Blesa took his hunting rifle out of the trunk, moved to the front of the car, laid the rifle butt on the ground, took aim at his own chest and fired. The body slid over the hood of the vehicle and dropped to the ground near one of the front wheels.

His wife learned the news over the telephone, and was planning to arrive in Córdoba on Thursday. Blesa will be buried in his home town of Linares, in the Andalusian province of Jaén.

Miguel Blesa was said to be addicted to a life of luxury.
Miguel Blesa was said to be addicted to a life of luxury.

So ended the life of a man who had fallen from grace following a series of high-profile scandals, among them secret credit cards handed out to Caja Madrid board members for luxury expenses under his tenure. Blesa was facing a six-year prison sentence over that case, although he had appealed and a final decision was still pending.

Blesa, who headed Caja Madrid between 1996 and 2009, had already spent 15 days in prison in June 2013 over his role in the acquisition of the City National Bank of Florida, for which Caja Madrid is thought to have overpaid by as much as 50%. Yet Blesa managed to have the judge in charge of the case thrown off the bench, and the case was shelved.

He was also caught up in another trial over irregular bonuses paid out by Caja Madrid, the financial situation of which eventually led to its merger with five other savings banks to create Bankia in 2010. Bankia was ultimately bailed out by the Spanish state at a cost of more than €20 billion.

He did it this way so nobody else would be involved. He was very meticulous and orderly. He had thought this through

Relative of Miguel Blesa

According to Blesa’s closest circle, over the last week he had repeatedly announced that he was going to Puerto del Toro, only to drop his plans. Then, at 10pm on Tuesday, he phoned Rafael Alcaide to let him know that he was already on his way from Madrid and would be arriving at around 2am.

He hadn’t been hunting in Córdoba for two years. When he did, he normally borrowed rifles there so he would not have to bring his own, even though he had a license for 15 firearms. But this time, he had a hunting rifle in the trunk.

“He did it so nobody else would be involved. He was very meticulous and orderly. He had thought this through,” said a relative, who opted to remain anonymous.

His family was convinced from the beginning that it was suicide. “It’s because of all the harassment he was being subjected to,” said one relative.

Blesa’s public image had suffered hugely from the scandals, particularly since much of the lavish spending with the “black” credit cards took place during the economic crisis, when many Spaniards were struggling to make ends meet. The 65 people involved in the case spent a collective €12.5 million between 2003 and 2012 on tax-free personal expenses, ranging from vacations and jewelry, to meals in expensive restaurants.

Coroners said that there no signs of a struggle, and that the location of the wound suggested a deliberate shot

At the height of his power, Blesa headed Spain’s fourth-largest lender, with more than seven million customers and annual earnings of over €2 billion during the real estate boom. But over a space of 20 years or so, the flagship savings bank became a refuge for dozens of politicians who were granted a seat on its board as a reward for their loyalty or internal power.

Yet he was not the only Spanish banker in the spotlight for serious financial mismanagement. What really made Blesa stand out as a near-comic book villain were the emails he sent during his last years at Caja Madrid, gloating about his extravagant expenses, including African hunting trips and expensive wines. The image that emerged was that of a man addicted to a life of luxury, hardly what would be expected of the head of a savings bank with a social mission. Blesa earned €12.44 million between 2007 and January 2010 with no oversight from anyone.

But his life had changed radically in recent times. A personal friend of former Popular Party Prime Minister José María Aznar, he was now being rejected by the same political class that had given him power in the first place. And he was reviled by Spanish society. He could not go to restaurants or stores without being recognized and insulted. He had grown a beard and used sunglasses in a bid to go unnoticed. He mostly spent his time in the countryside, visiting his remaining friends and going on nature walks.

Meanwhile, his retirement checks were partly on hold and all of his properties seized, as he had used them as guarantees in his various trials. All of his expenses had to be justified in court periodically.

Blesa told anybody who would listen that he was being treated “unfairly.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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