First royal-family member to stand in the dock is accused with her husband of embezzling 6m euros in public contracts.
Rodrigo Rato, a former chief of the International Monetary Fund, has been sentenced to four and a half years in jail for misusing funds when he was the boss of two Spanish banks.
Spain’s National Court, which deals with corruption and financial crime cases, said on Thursday that Rato had been found guilty of embezzlement when he headed up Caja Madrid and Bankia between 2003 and 2012 , at a time when both groups were having difficulties.
The case caused outrage in Spain, where it was uncovered at the height of a severe economic crisis that left many people struggling financially – made all the worse because Bankia later had to be nationalised and injected with more than 22 billion euro ($23bn) in public funds.
Rato, who was IMF chief from 2004 to 2007 and a leading figure in Spain’s governing Popular Party from 1996 to 2004, remains at liberty pending a possible appeal.
He was on trial with 64 other former executives and board members at both banks accused of misusing 12 million euros ($12.7m) – sometimes splashing out at the height of Spain’s economic crisis.
They were accused of having paid for personal expenses with credit cards put at their disposal by both Caja Madrid and Bankia, without ever justifying them or declaring them to tax authorities.
These expenses included petrol for their cars, supermarket shopping, pricey holidays, luxury bags or parties in nightclubs.
According to the indictment, Rato maintained the “corrupt system” established by his predecessor Miguel Blesa when he took the reins of Caja Madrid in 2010.
He then replicated the system when he took charge of Bankia, a group born in 2011 out of the merger of Caja Madrid with six other savings banks, prosecutors said.
Blesa was sentenced to six years in jail.
Rato, 67, had always denied any wrongdoing and said the credit cards were for discretionary spending as part of executives’ pay deal.
He told the court last October that everything “was completely legal”.
Rato will not necessarily go directly to jail if he appeals against the ruling, just like the Spanish king’s brother-in-law Inaki Urdangarin, who has been left free without posting bail following his sentence of six years and three months for syphoning off millions of euros.
Urdangarin’s temporary reprieve, announced on Thursday, made waves in Spain where people have long criticised what is perceived as the impunity of the elite.
IMF bosses’ scandals
Rato is the third former IMF chief to get into trouble with the law.
His successor Dominique Strauss-Kahn was tried in 2015 on pimping charges in a lurid sex scandal, and was acquitted.
Christine Lagarde, the current IMF chief, was found guilty of negligence over a massive state payout to a tycoon when she was French finance minister.