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Spain’s ex-finance minister stands trial over ‘spending sprees’



Former chief of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Spain’s ex-finance minister goes on trial at a Spanish court on charges of using company credit cards for personal spending.

Rodrigo Rato, who is also the former chief executive of the Spanish banking conglomerate Bankia, is among 64 other executives and former board members of the lender and its founding savings bank Caja Madrid, who face charges of illegally spending 12 million euros ($13.48 million) for personal use from 2003 and 2012.

Prosecutors requested a four-and-a-half year jail sentence for Rato, who has pleaded innocent. Rato led the formation of Bankia by merging Caja Madrid with other banks.

They are also pushing for a six-year sentence and 9.3 million euros in damages for Miguel Blesa, who was the head of Caja Madrid from 1996 to 2010. Blesa also denied any wrongdoing in the case dubbed “black cards.”

The scandal which came to light in 2014 angered Spaniards who had lost money after Bankia’s near-collapse sparked an EU bailout of Spain’s financial sector in 2012.

On Monday, a group of angry Spaniards gathered outside the court near Madrid, denouncing Rato and Blesa and shouting insults at them upon their arrival.

Former IMF chief and ex-Spanish Economy Minister Rodrigo Rato (L) and also former president of Caja Madrid, Miguel Blesa sit in the dock during the first day of a trial at the High Court near Madrid on September 26, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

A court spokeswoman said Blesa will return on Friday to testify, while Rato is likely returning early next week.

Blesa’s lawyer, Carlos Aguilar, defended his client in the court session, saying the evidence presented was “invalid” since they infringed on the accused’s rights, according to El Pais newspaper.

Previous court statements reported that Rato had returned the nearly 100,000 euros he embezzled.

Rato, who headed the IMF from 2004 to 2007, was a former deputy prime minister for Spain’s ruling party People’s Party in the government of Jose Maria Aznar.

His case comes as PP leader and acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is seeking a second term in office while many of his party’s officials are implicated in corruption cases.

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