Judge Places BBVA Under Formal Investigation in Spying Case

(Bloomberg) -- Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA has been placed under formal investigation over allegations it used a police commissioner to spy on business rivals and politicians.

Spanish judge Manuel Garcia Castellon accepted the public prosecutor’s request to probe the bank for alleged bribery, improper disclosure and corruption in business, the country’s national court said in a statement. The judge rejected BBVA’s request to be treated as an injured party in the case.

Spanish media has reported that, starting in 2004, former Chairman Francisco Gonzalez personally instructed former Police Commissioner Jose Manuel Villarejo, who was moonlighting as a private detective, to tap the phones of people. They included the deputy prime minister and the economic adviser to the former prime minister, as well as the chief executive officer of construction company Sacyr SA and an executive at rival Banco Santander SA.

“The Attorney General’s office believes that contracts and illicit payments were made by BBVA to the company Cenyt, whose owner was Villarejo, which affected various sensitive areas of the bank and diverse executives within the entity, during a prolonged period of time,” the court said.

The bank has confirmed that it hired the agency and said in a statement last week that it forwarded “relevant findings” to the judge from an internal investigation led by Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP and law firms Garrigues and Uria Menendez that has lasted more than a year.

No one at the National Court was immediately available for comment. A spokeswoman for BBVA said the bank had no immediate comment when contacted by phone.

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