Spanish banker released on record £10m bail

Spain's former banking supremo, Mario Conde, who was jailed in December accused of criminal fraud and embezzlement, was released yesterday on a record bail of 2 billion pesetas (£10m) on condition that he remain in Spain. The High Court ruled yesterday that the crimes of which Mr Conde was accused were insufficient to keep him in detention. Mr Conde's lawyers said last night they expected to raise the money in the next few days.

A star of Spain's 1980s financial boom, Mr Conde was chairman of Spanish Credit Bank (Banesto), the country's fourth-largest bank, until his alleged improper dealings brought the company to its knees in 1993. He has always denied responsibility for Banesto's "black hole" - a Ptas605bn capital deficit created largely by over-valuation of Banesto's assets. He was once a close friend of Felipe Gonzalez, the Prime Minister, and a frequent visitor to King Juan Carlos's palace.

He says in an account of his actions published in December that he fell victim to a campaign of political dirty tricks and was unwillingly cast as the black sheep of Spanish banking.

Mr Conde was dismissed as Banesto's chairman by the Bank of Spain, the central bank, at the end of 1993 for "gross negligence" following allegations that he had created a web of intermediary companies that bought and sold assets within the Banesto group.

During his six-year stint as chairman of the bank, the public prosecutor said, he and nine senior associates enriched themselves by systematicallygulling and defrauding Banesto's shareholders.

Banesto's current chairman, Alfredo Saenz, told a parliamentary commission last October: "In Banesto there have been cases in which money has not been lost, it has disappeared and somebody has it."

Arturo Romani, Mr Conde's former deputy chairman, who was detained with him, was also freed yesterday on bail of Ptas1bn.

Last April, Banesto was acquired at auction by Banco Santander after some Ptas780bn in public and private funds had been spent on salvaging it, in one of the biggest bank rescues recorded.

The Bank of Spain said that "the support of the entire banking system" was required to refloat Banesto.

JP Morgan, the blue chip US investment bank, helped Banesto raise more than $700m from the international markets in 1993.