* State anti-corruption unit leads investigation
* 'Crowdfunding' raises 15,000 euros in 24 hours
* Protestors hope to take Bankia to court
* Mainstream political parties shy away from legal action
(Recasts with public prosecutor investigation)
By Sarah White
MADRID, June 6 Spain's public prosecutor's
office opened an investigation into nationalized bank Bankia
on Wednesday, potentially heightening a backlash
against the lender's bailout that has so far been spearheaded by
small shareholders groups.
The public prosecutor's anti-corruption unit is leading the
probe into Bankia, a spokesman said, the first step in
determining whether an offence has been committed by the bank
that has requested 19 billion euros ($24 billion) in state aid.
The investigation comes as public anger at how the listing
of the bank last year and its nationalisation last month have
been handled by Spanish authorities.
Campaigners seeking to launch legal action against
bailed-out bank are attracting donations via crowdfunding, a
financing method all the rage in small business circles that
involves drawing cash from ordinary citizens.
Protestors from the "indignados" movement - a campaign of
Spaniards "indignant" over the government's handling of the
economic crisis - had by Wednesday raised 15,000 euros in 24
hours through a donations website to launch a claim.
The group said it plans to start civil and criminal
proceedings against the former management of Bankia parent BFA
and former chairman Rodrigo Rato who stepped down in May shortly
before the bank requested 19 billion euros in state aid.
Bankia, weighed down by souring real estate assets, has
become the focal point of a Spanish banking crisis that
threatens to force the country to seek international help.
Thousands of small shareholders, drawn into Bankia's July
listing after an aggressive marketing campaign on television and
in branches, have seen their investments wiped out as the bank's
stock tanked, adding to public anger.
The challenge mounts pressure on politicians to open a
formal investigation into the handling of Bankia, with other
minority shareholder groups also stepping up plans for a legal
fight against former management and regulators.
Over 500 Bankia minority investors are set to club together
to try to seek compensation, and will start planning their
challenge next week, one association for small shareholders of
public companies, AEMEC, said on Wednesday.
Some smaller political parties have also called for a
criminal investigation into the Bankia affair.
However, the two main political parties have so far shied
away from launching an inquiry run by Congress. Former Chairman
Rato was a previous finance minister for the ruling People's
Party, while the roundly-criticised listing of Bankia happened
under the auspices of a Socialist government, now in opposition.
The Indignados group said it would present its legal
challenge on June 14.
The protestors, best known for marches and campaigns
organised across Spanish towns in the past year, used a website
called Goteo, or "Trickle", to raise the funding, explaining
they needed money to pay lawyers and administrative costs.
Crowdfunding has become an increasingly popular method of
financing start-up businesses or even independent films. In many
cases though, this so-called peer-to-peer lending implies
investors will get some sort of a return.
Those leading the legal challenge against Rato said the
campaign was for justice, not for money.
($1 = 0.8023 euros)
(Additional reporting by Andres Gonzalez and Tracy Rucinski;
Editing by Julien Toyer and Mark Potter)