MADRID Former International Monetary Fund chief Rodrigo Rato rejected at a trial on Tuesday claims he had misused a corporate credit card during his time at lender Bankia (BKIA.MC), saying the expenses he accrued were legal and part of his salary.
Rato and 64 other executives and former board members of Bankia and its founding savings bank Caja Madrid are accused of illegally charging millions of euros in personal expenses on company cards in a case that has incensed Spaniards.
Rato, who chaired Bankia for two years until just before its state bailout in 2012, has since repaid the almost 100,000 euros ($111,680) bill he racked up.
But, he told a court on Tuesday the card was legal, denying allegations that this spending was done below the radar and not declared within company accounts. He said any spending on the card was part of his salary.
"I had no doubt, the card was a perfectly legal payment," Rato said at the televised trial on the outskirts of Madrid, adding that these expenses were not extras on top of his remuneration but accounted for as part of it.
The so-called "black cards" case sparked widespread anger when the scandal first broke in 2014, at a time Spain was recovering from years of recession, mass layoffs and a banking crisis partly triggered by Bankia's massive bailout.
In total, prosecutors are investigating some 12 million euros in spending on the cards between 2003 and 2012 by the former executives, and they are seeking a four-and-a-half year sentence for Rato.
As well as chairing the IMF between 2004 and 2007, Rato was a one-time heavyweight in the conservative People's Party (PP), which is now trying to form a government in Spain after coming out on top in two consecutive inconclusive elections.
The PP has distanced itself from their former finance minister, who is no longer a party member. But the trial comes at an awkward time for PP leader Mariano Rajoy, who is bidding for a second term in office.
It also coincided with the start on Tuesday of another corruption trial into allegations some of the PP's senior members had a slush fund bankrolled by friendly businesses.
(Reporting by Emma Pinedo, Sarah White Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)