Rodrigo de Rato (1949) reached the Olympus of the most influential people in the world when he was appointed managing director of the International Monetary Fund (2004-2007) after occupying the economic vice-presidency in the governments of José María Aznar (1996 -2004). Back in Spain, he assumed the presidency of Caja Madrid, converted into Bankia. And here began the decline of his career. First, in May 2012 he left his position in the box, which a few days later would be nationalized and would receive 20,000 million in public aid. Then, in 2018, he was convicted in the case of the so-called cards.
The Bankia crisis remains very present in the memory of Spanish society, the epitome of the great real estate and financial crisis. In his book, he questions the idea that Bankia was the big problem in the Spanish financial system.
I think that the big problem was customer debt, which all the banks had. Bankia, on the other hand, did not create debt, on the contrary, under my mandate it provided 15,000 million euros. We were not the ones who gave the mortgages or the ones who gave the credits, but we reduced offices and staff. Bankia was an attempt by the Bank of Spain to privatize the banks, 50% of the system, at a very cheap price so that it was private capital that would support or finance its future. That they all became private players with capital and with the former shareholders of the banks reduced to 10% or 15% of the capital.
The problem is that it started late. It should have started before 2008. And it started in 2011. And when things start late, they are more expensive. And then he didn't have time. The merger of Bankia involved 300,000 million between seven entities and could not be done in 12 months.
And, moreover, if in the middle of the trip they tell you first to merge and then to go public with a four-month deadline, after the following year you stock up, first the public debt because the ECB tells you to, then the real estate debt because Luis de Guindos tells you so [a decree of the then Minister of Economy].
I insist, he denies that Bankia was the big broken piece of the Spanish financial system...
If in January 2012 a banker like Isidre Fainé, then president of CaixaBank, and an Economy Minister like Luis de Guindos wanted a merger of the two entities without aid, just a few months later, in May 2012, it could not be a problem If in May 2012 the man who replaces me, José Ignacio Goirigolzarri, asks for 18,000 million, which will not arrive until 2013, where was the urgency?
What was the agreement with La Caixa? In his book, he says they had it and Fainé wanted to change it.
We had agreed that the headquarters would go to Catalonia, I doubted whether I made this concession too soon. We had agreed a co-presidency, Fainé and I, for four years. It was clear that they, Juan María Nin, would appoint the chief executive officer, and we would appoint the vice president. La Caixa could not reach 50% of the new bank and we exceeded 20%. This was the balance. I think the agreement with La Caixa was good. And the government liked it. But then things cooled down.
In his book, it seems that he was the victim of a conspiracy... Was Rato's head worth the 20,000 million from the public rescue of Bankia?
We had met all the regulatory milestones set by the government. The decrees of Guindos. And yet, we were asked for more. Why should I give more provisions than the gentleman in front? Why do my provisions need to be higher?
Markets had the idea that Bankia was the problem.
How do the markets identify you? For the stock exchange? For deposits? For the price of bonds? Your stock starts to fall, your good customers start leaving and the rating agencies downgrade your rating. Nothing like that happened to us. And the fact that we had a minister speaking badly of us, which the governor of the Bank of Spain tells me; the president of the country's second bank talking bad about us and a government that gets the IMF to publish a note in which we are described with first names and two last names. And yet, our action does not move. It moves like the others, even better than average.
And the one who asks me to leave is the Minister of Economy and the president of BBVA, Francisco González, and then Mariano Rajoy [president of the government], who tells me that yes, I should leave; so I'm leaving A suicide operation.
It's strange. In the book, he explains that his friends rule. Before, the IPO, a real State operation, had the support of the Rodríguez Zapatero government and the big Spanish banks and companies. How does he explain his interpretation that they are the ones who want him out?
In the book I point out two theories, two influences. The first: there is a moment when Spain is on the verge of rescue. A bailout that was not acceptable to the EU and it was decided to do only the bank bailout. Going from one of 500,000 million to one of 100,000. To do a bank rescue, you need a banking crisis. And as brutal as it sounds, this is what happens. The other is that a part of the government, in this case the Ministry of Economy, accepts my slowness, my reluctance, my little collaboration with an express merger with La Caixa very badly, and wants to replace me. They are the only two data that I know.
It describes a conspiracy, perhaps there is a better word, in which the government, the auditor, banking competitors, some regulator would participate...
Competitors, no. If I had been called to keep the BBVA deposits, I would have certainly gone. In a moment of crisis because, of course, they were all losing money in Spain. The only ones making money were those who had business outside. But there is a certain fact, Guindos summons me to discuss my accounts with my competitors. Clearly, I have a weakness and that is that Bankia has grants of 4,600 million from the FROB, the public fund. And Guindos tells me that he can make the FROB enforce this debt. He told me in March 2012. And it made my hair stand on end. I believe that there is a moment when the Spanish government, and already with the previous government, is behind the events. And that's why these constant and hasty regulatory changes.
And does that explain the existence of an operation against you?
This is the least important. A rationale is sought for a bank bailout. And at the same time there are some gentlemen, who are the ones coming after me, who say that if they undertake to ask for the rescue, they want 20,000 million to ensure that everything goes well.
Does it mean that his downfall would have been instrumental?
What Cristóbal [Montoro, Minister of Finance in Rajoy's government] told me was: "I'm sorry, Rodrigo, but you're collateral damage, we're going to kick you out." And I told them: "No, then no, you won't kick me out, I'm leaving."
Much of his book is dedicated to the judicial journey. It is noteworthy that a former vice-president of the government calls into question legal certainty in Spain. In some passages his allegations are very similar to those of the victims of the so-called operation Catalonia, such as the former president of Barça, Sandro Rosell...
I am a critic of impunity. I don't understand how the Prosecutor's Office works. I don't understand why a prospective investigation isn't being pursued. I don't understand why secret investigations are not immediately punished. I don't understand how you negotiate with prisoners held as preventives. I don't understand the laxity with leaks. And it has happened to me, I have been the subject of prospective, secret investigations, of baseless accusations. Of helplessness It happens to a lot of people. It's the deep. And let it be known that I am very anti-independence.