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The bank was a farm, after all

The Popular Party’s mismanagement turned Caja Madrid into its private watering hole

It emerged this week that the son of ex-Prime Minister José María Aznar and a now-deceased Popular Party (PP) city councilor harangued the former chairman of Caja Madrid, Miguel Blesa, in order to persuade him to purchase a collection of artworks on behalf of the savings bank. Their attitude in the leaked messages shows the level of respect that Aznar’s circle felt for the head of what was then Spain’s fourth-biggest lender. It also shows the servility they expected from Blesa, given that it was Aznar’s influence that won him the job.

“Caja Madrid is not my private farm,” Blesa told Aznar’s son, by way of an apology for not acceding to his father’s wishes. What is emerging from a court case involving Blesa shows precisely the opposite: that Caja Madrid was indeed a private farm, for friends and politicians, particularly those of the PP, who turned the regional savings bank — now part of Bankia — into a battlefield for the various party factions, as well as an easy source of funds for their operations and whims.

The matter of interest to the former prime minister — that the bank acquire the collection of the painter and sculptor Gerardo Rueda for 56 million euros, plus the ceding of a municipal building in which to exhibit it — was absurd in terms of the bank’s interests. Blesa was apprised of the absurdity by Rafael Spottorno (now head of the Royal Household), the man who was then in charge of the bank’s cultural foundation. But the fact that this happened in 2009, with the financial crisis already upon us, confirms the worst suspicions about the disarray in the cajas de ahorros (public regional savings banks — now privatized, but formerly under the direct control of regional governments) which, especially in the years of the real estate boom, became the private preserves of certain politicians.

As if this scandal were not enough, the judge in charge of this case considers himself the victim of a conspiracy

Meanwhile, this is only one of the revelations that still await us in 8,700 emails seized from Blesa by the judge who twice remanded him into preventive custody, Elpidio José Silva, in May and June of last year, in the course of an investigation into allegedly irregular credits granted to the ex-president of the CEOE employers’ association, Gerardo Díaz Ferrán, and Caja Madrid’s supposedly reckless purchase of a bank in Florida. The thousands of emails document Blesa’s activities connected with favors to politicians and friends.

As if this scandal were not enough, the judge in charge of this case — against whom there is a suit filed by the Prosecutor’s Office, and who has just served out a sanction imposed by the General Council of the Judiciary — considers himself the victim of a conspiracy aimed at removing him from the case, even suggesting that his enemies were preparing to do him “physical harm” because, he says, they will not cow him by other means. In passing, Judge Silva remarks that, should he blow the whistle in earnest, “the system would not bear it.”

These comments are being made by a judge in active service.

There can be little doubt how right the public is to feel fed up. Great damage has been done not only to depositors and to the public coffers, but also to the prestige of the institutions. To restore confidence in the professional competence of those who run this country’s financial entities means ensuring that politics will no longer lay its hands on them.

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