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Of course, ordinary people can fight corruption!

Simone Levy
Simona Levi
Active in Spanish Xnet and the 15MpaRato campaign.
THE 15MPARATO ACTION / The Bankia case is a good example of how ordinary people can ensure that people in power are held accountable for crimes.


We started the 15MpaRato campaign in Spain in 2011 to show that there were powerful people – especially people with well-known names – behind what was called the "crisis" in Spanish banking. We all knew that it was in fact an extensive financial fraud: In less than seven months, the major bank Bankia's shares had collapsed and taken 300 customers' bank deposits with them. Our goal was to bring the scammers to justice, and we chose to start with Rodrigo Rato himself. He was Spain's leading banker – president of Bankia – and former head of the International Monetary Fund, IMF (000–2004), as well as a not improbably future prime minister.

The action name 15MpaRato is a pun: "Rato" means "a good while". The name 15MpaRato means that we are part of the larger Spanish 15M Indignados movement and signaled that we did not intend to give up immediately. The name also plays on one of the main opponents of the Indignados movement, mentioned Rodrigo Rato, who had also been Minister of Finance in Spain from 1996 to 2004.

The action group consisted neither of lawyers nor financial experts, but of ordinary people: 44 citizens with deposits in the bank volunteered as prosecutors. 130 percent of the money we aimed to raise for the campaign, 20 euros, came in already during the first day after we went out with the case.

Bankia case

The 15MpaRato action resulted in a civil lawsuit in the Spanish Supreme Court. Eventually, the case became known as the Bankia case. It includes, for example, bank managers' use of so-called black bank cards for private purposes. The initiative for the campaign came from ordinary people, long before political parties joined. Later, the government and the press have tried to make people believe that the Bankia case was initiated by a public prosecutor, a judge, a minister, a political party and of course the press. But no, it was probably us who took the initiative for it all. And we are the formal and real prosecutors in this lawsuit.

We wanted to tell the story directly to people. We did not trust the politicians of the left-wing political party Podemos who wanted to take ownership of the case and tell the story so that it served them. We noticed that the information we sent out was not the same as the media disseminated. Therefore, we used theater, books, magazines and film to convey our story directly and in an understandable way. This was going on in parallel with the legal process we were conducting.

We started by accusing Rato and got 33 other high-level bank employees on the bench.

Massive internal leakage

An important basis for the accusations was a massive internal leak of e-mails about what had taken place in Bankia. We filtered out 8000 e-mails, of which 460 from the years 2000 to 2009, which were posted on the internet so that people themselves – and the press – could see how the "crisis" was created by the bankers themselves. These "Blesa emails" were published over a period of several days []. For example, we revealed the bank management's use of the aforementioned black bank cards, which gave them the opportunity to shop privately, tax- and fee-free, at the bank's account.

15MpaRato was never a personal vendetta against Rato. The idea behind the initiative was rather that if we started with a high-profile banker, the rest would follow. And we were right: We started by accusing Rato and got 33 other high-level bank employees on the bench.

70 brought before the court

Today, almost 70 bankers and politicians have been brought to justice, from the entire political spectrum – from right to far left. In 2018, Rato was sentenced to 4,5 years in prison by the Spanish Supreme Court and sentenced to repay a larger million. He is currently in jail for fraud. Rato was granted a lighter sentence in 2020. His name also appeared in the Panama papers which showed that he – despite assurances to the contrary – had invested large sums in tax havens.

Important lesson

There are no secrets and simple tricks to succeed with such a campaign. But we have learned a certain lesson, and these seven issues must be taken seriously:

What are we going to leak to the press?

Where should we leak the information?

The information must be processed depending on the case.

Take care of your own safety as an alert. Find out which laws and practices regulate notification where you live and work.

Organize carefully so that the information is leaked at a strategically correct time.

Collaborate with various competent groups, journalists, informants, relevant organizations and experts.

Power is important. Alerting does not succeed if it does not have influential supporters who can give it credibility. And it is important to take legal action if you do not want the case to just crumble away.

Remember that the corrupt will never end corruption themselves. Only organized citizens can do this.

Simone Levy

Simona Levi (b. 1966) is one of the brains behind the Xnet collective, which has mobilized the most successful campaign against corruption in modern Spain, perhaps even throughout Europe. They have not succeeded in everything they have done, and several cases have been prosecuted with massive legal assistance from the accused, who are very financially strong. But the campaign is an example of what is possible to achieve when citizens who have a good cause mobilize widely. Levi is a member of Partido X, a political party that originated with the 15M movement (also called the Indignados movement), founded in December 2012.
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