The current president of CaixaBank, José Ignacio Goirigolzarri, has defended this Thursday in the National High Court that there was no irregularity in the sale, for 400 million euros, of the Cepsa Tower to Sheikh Khadem Al Quabisi in 2016 by Bankia. Goirigolzarri, who then presided over this entity and who in such condition has testified as a witness before Judge José Luis Calama, has assured that the operation with the skyscraper, located in Madrid’s Paseo de la Castellana, was carried out because it was not possible to go back despite the fact that at that time in the bank they already knew the news that implicated Al Quabisi in serious financial irregularities in other countries.
In this sense, the former Bankia senior official has argued that there was an agreement signed three years earlier with the Arab businessman that forced them to sell and that, in addition, getting rid of the property was part of the sale process of all the non-banking assets that Bankia initiated after its rescue, according to what legal sources familiar with the content of its statement detail to EL PAÍS. In addition to the former president of Bankia, two other former senior officials of the entity have also testified, the former CEO José Sevilla and the former secretary of the Board of Directors, Miguel Crespo. Both have given the same version as Goirigolzarri, add the consulted sources.
The interrogation of the three former senior Bankia officials took place within the case opened in 2018 at the National High Court at the request of the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office following a report by the Bank of Spain that placed the Torre sale transaction under suspicion for money laundering Cepsa. Bankia had bought the building, designed by the architect Norman Foster, for 800 million euros in 2007 and sold it nine years later for half this price to Al Quasabi, who was then the CEO of Cepsa. He barely kept ownership of the property for a few minutes, since, after signing the purchase with a bridge loan of 400 million from Bankinter, he formalized its sale for 490 million to Pontegadea Inversiones, the company of the founder of Inditex, Amancio Ortega. The investigation tries to clarify whether the Arab sheikh, who obtained a capital gain of 90 million, allegedly used the operation to launder part of the funds allegedly obtained in the embezzlement of the Malaysian fund 1MDB for which he was investigated at the time.
In the case, the president and founder of the Corpfin fund, Felipe de Oriol, and the businessmen, Rafael García Tapia and Ramón Merino, declared as defendants between July and October of last year, for their role as administrators of funds created for this operation. For his part, the main protagonist of the operation, Al Quasabi, is unaccounted for by the Spanish justice system, which has issued rogatory commissions to Malaysia, the US and the United Arab Emirates to obtain information on the movement of funds from him.
In his statement this Thursday, Goirigolzarri detailed that Bankia signed a rental contract for the tower in 2013 with an Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund linked to the Arab sheikh, which included a purchase option to be executed in 2016. The former president of Bankia has assured that when that first document was signed, Al Quasabi held a high position in society International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC, which in 2011 had acquired 100% of Cepsa and had appointed the latter’s chief executive officer) and there was no doubt about his performance.
The former president of the entity has insisted that that first sale was made after receiving several offers and verifying that the sheikh’s was the best, not only because of the price for the purchase, but because it added the rent of the entire tower, which at that time was practically empty. Goirigolzarri has admitted that, when the first news arrived some time later about the alleged involvement of the Arab businessman in irregularities and that the courts of several countries had proceeded to freeze his funds, there was concern within the council about the future of the operation.
He knows in depth all the sides of the coin.
However, the former president of Bankia has defended before the judge that it go ahead with it because an in-depth analysis was made of the origin of the money they were going to receive, and that everything was legal, since its origin was a credit from another entity, Bankinter. Goirigolzarri has insisted that, had he refused to make the compromised sale, the sheikh could have taken legal action against Bankia. In the statement, which lasted just over 15 minutes, according to the sources consulted, he also stressed that all the decisions on that operation went through the Bankia Board, which approved them.