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A protester, with a fake Bankia bank credit card on his forehead, takes part in a demonstration against bank fraud in Madrid June 16, 2012. The card reads "Bronca" (Quarrel) instead of "Bankia," "Risa" (Laugh) instead of Visa and it bears the name of former chairman of Spain's Bankia bank Rodrigo Rato. (SUSANA VERA/REUTERS)
A protester, with a fake Bankia bank credit card on his forehead, takes part in a demonstration against bank fraud in Madrid June 16, 2012. The card reads "Bronca" (Quarrel) instead of "Bankia," "Risa" (Laugh) instead of Visa and it bears the name of former chairman of Spain's Bankia bank Rodrigo Rato. (SUSANA VERA/REUTERS)

Spain launches Bankia fraud probe Add to ...

Spain’s high court has opened a fraud probe into Rodrigo Rato, the former International Monetary Fund chief who was until recently chairman of Bankia, the part-nationalized lender at the forefront of Spain’s banking crisis.

The probe into Mr. Rato, along with 32 other top executives of Bankia, is the first step of a sweeping investigation likely to draw in some of the most prominent names in Spanish politics and business.

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Spain’s high court said on Wednesday that it had accepted a case brought by a small political party to establish whether Mr. Rato and other executives were responsible for falsifying Bankia’s accounts, and misleading investors during its stock market listing, ahead of the lender succumbing to a €23.5-billion ($29.5-billion U.S.) state rescue.

Mr. Rato, a former Spanish finance minister, took charge of Bankia in 2010, and pushed ahead with a stock market listing less than a year before the lender was forced to request aid which eventually forced Spain itself to seek up to €100-billion in rescue money for its banks from Europe in a deal yet to be finalized.

No specific charges have been made against Mr. Rato or the other executives.

Bankia, which Mr. Rato repeatedly publicly praised for its financial strength ahead of the rescue, was formed from a merger of seven politicized savings banks which had lent aggressively into Spain’s property bubble, and has since become a symbol of the mismanagement of the country’s financial sector.

Mr. Rato’s proximity to the ruling Popular party, along with other executives named in the case, such as José Luis Olivas, former PP head of the Valencia region, risks embarrassing the government of Mariano Rajoy, which had rejected earlier calls for a public enquiry into mismanagement at the bank.

Ángel Acebes, a PP interior minister under the government of José María Aznar and a director at BFA, is also named in the case.

According to the court filing among those who will be called to testify include Miguel Ángel Fernández Ordóñez, the ex-governor of the Bank of Spain who stepped down a month early from his term following the Bankia rescue, and Francisco Celma, a partner at Deloitte responsible for auditing the lender’s accounts.

Before its nationalization, Bankia had declared a profit of €309-million for 2011, which was later restated to a €3-billion loss after Mr. Rato was ejected from the bank and José Ignacio Goirigolzarri, a former BBVA banker, was installed in his place with the approval of the Spanish government.

Mr. Fernández Ordóñez was roundly attacked by politicians from the PP, and others, for failing to supervise Spanish banks effectively, and for allowing the merger of Caja Madrid and the Valencian Bancaja, the two largest components of Bankia, to go ahead.

Julio Segura Sánchez, chairman of the CNMV, Spain’s stock market regulator, will also appear. The organization has come under criticism for allowing Bankia to list, and be sold to retail investors who suffered large losses.

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