MADRID (Reuters) - Former International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Rodrigo Rato arrived at a Madrid prison on Thursday to start a four-and-a-half year jail term for using company credit cards to make costly personal purchases while running state-owned lender Bankia.
Rato, who was economy minister in Spain and a prominent figure in the ruling People's Party (PP) before moving to the IMF, chaired Bankia for two years until just before its state bailout in 2012.
Spain's High Court ruled in 2017 that Rato was responsible for overseeing the misuse of credit cards at the bank, which involved 64 former Bankia executives, including Rato.
Corporate credit cards were used to buy jewels, holidays and expensive clothes, as well as more mundane everyday personal purchases. In total, prosecutors investigated some 12 million euros in spending between 2003 and 2012.
Carrying two suitcases and dressed in jeans, a grey shirt and a blue sleeveless jacket, Rato thanked family and friends for their support during the legal process against him before entering the Soto del Real prison on the outskirts of Madrid.
"First of all I would like to say that I fully accept my obligations before society, I recognise all the mistakes that I may have made and I ask for forgiveness from those who may have felt deceived," Rato told reporters gathered outside the jail.
He appealed the ruling and denied any wrongdoing, arguing the expenses he accrued on the Bankia credit cards were legal.
But Spain's Supreme Court confirmed earlier this month the four-and-half year jail sentence from the High Court and said it considered the sentence to be proportionate due to Rato's preeminent position at Bankia.
The so-called "black cards" case sparked widespread anger when the scandal first broke in 2014, at a time when Spain was recovering from years of recession, mass layoffs and a banking crisis partly triggered by Bankia's massive bailout.
Rato still faces two other legal cases, one over Bankia's ill-fated public listing in 2011 -- with the trial expected to begin at the end of November -- and another for tax fraud.
(Reporting By Jesús Aguado and Emma Pinedo; Editing by Paul Day and Helen Popper)