What’s all this about the “black credit cards” of Caja Madrid?

It’s almost as exciting as the Ebola scare – all of Spain is following with rapt interest the revelations that Caja Madrid was giving out black credit cards to politicians and board members, allowing them to spend vast amounts of the banks money.

The “tarjetas B” as they’re called, were credit cards that weren’t linked to any particular account, but instead siphoned money out of the banks central reserve. The bank fooled auditors by sucking the cash out of accounts marked to guarantee credit card fraud from real customers – so the statements didn’t appear during audits.

86 board members and politicians had these cards. The amounts they spent were never declared to the tax office or appeared on any income statement. When Caja Madrid was swallowed up by Bankia (it, unsurprisingly, went bust during the recession) the practise continued until a whistleblower passed information to the courts.

The Anticorruption Prosecutor is investigating, but since the law says it’s only a penal crime if you embezzle above €120,000 a year (which nobody did) then it’s a misdemeanour. Although Caja Madrid could be implicated if it can be proved it was company policy to pay cash to staff without declaring it.

Bankia thinks Caja Madrid spent 15,5 million euros via these credit cards between 1999 and 2012. It doesn’t seem a lot of money. The Board of Directors of Caja Madrid paid themselves 71 million euros during the last four years of the banks life. Miguel Blesa, the last president of Caja Madrid, was paying himself 20 million euros.

Part of the problem is that politicians were involved. Under the old Caja system, local authorities appointed politicians to sit on the board of these banks. n exchange, they got paid whopping amounts. Politicians involved: 27 PP, 15 PSOE, 5 IU and 11 union representatives. 14 of these have been forced to quit since the revelations appeared.

These guys were spending the money whereever they liked. One chap spent thousands in his own restaurant, for example. A lot of the cash was taken out of hole in the wall machines.

754.000€ of the 15,5 million euros has been returned, by politicians who wanted to keep their jobs. Here’s the full list of names and amounts taken.

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