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All ‘legal’, ex-IMF head Rato says in embezzlement trial

Former IMF chief, ex Spanish Economy Minister and former president of Caja Madrid, Rodrigo Rato (L) arrives at the High Court in San Fernando de Henares, near Madrid for the "Black cards of Bankia" trial over bankers' luxury sprees,  on September 26, 2016. Former president of Caja Madrid, Rodrigo Rato is trialed for alleged of misuse of funds when he was the boss of two of Spain's top banks. Rato is standing trial with 64 other former executives and board members at Caja Madrid and Bankia, whose near-collapse sparked an EU bailout of Spain's financial sector.   / AFP PHOTO / JAVIER SORIANO

Former IMF chief, ex Spanish Economy Minister and former president of Caja Madrid, Rodrigo Rato (L) arrives at the High Court in San Fernando de Henares, near Madrid for the “Black cards of Bankia” trial over bankers’ luxury sprees, on September 26, 2016.<br />Former president of Caja Madrid, Rodrigo Rato is trialed for alleged of misuse of funds when he was the boss of two of Spain’s top banks. Rato is standing trial with 64 other former executives and board members at Caja Madrid and Bankia, whose near-collapse sparked an EU bailout of Spain’s financial sector.<br />/ AFP PHOTO / JAVIER SORIANO

Former IMF chief Rodrigo Rato said Tuesday that using the funds of banks he headed up for personal use was “completely legal,” as he took the stand in a trial for embezzlement.

The former economy minister is accused of overseeing a system while at Spain’s Caja Madrid and then at Bankia that helped him and 64 others also on trial to use funds on items such as parties and luxury shopping without justifying or declaring the spending.

Altogether, they allegedly spent 12 million euros ($13.4 million) between 2003 and 2012 — sometimes splashing out at the height of Spain’s devastating economic crisis.

“It was completely legal,” Rato — a fallen star of the ruling conservative Popular Party — calmly told the courtroom just outside Madrid, on the stand for the first time since the trial kicked off last week.

According to the indictment, Rato maintained a “corrupt system” established by his predecessor Miguel Blesa when he took the reins of Caja Madrid in 2010, and then replicated it at Bankia, whose subsequent near-collapse sparked an EU bailout of Spain’s financial sector.

“They were part of my contract as a member of the board of directors,” the 67-year-old said, adding it was a salary add-on.

“I had a right to all the annual or long-term incentives that the management team received.”

Meanwhile at Bankia, a group born in 2011 out of the merger of Caja Madrid with six other savings banks, the credit cards were merely advances on salaries, he added.

Rato himself spent close to 100,000 euros in two years with his credit cards.

Other executives or board members spent a lot more.

But as one of the men who oversaw the system, prosecutors are seeking a jail sentence of four-and-a-half years for him, a fine of 108,000 euros and 2.6 million euros in damages.


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