BBVA bank in Madrid. | Eduardo Parra - Europa Press

Spain's anti-corruption prosecutor has asked Spain's High Court to put the country's second-biggest bank, BBVA, under formal investigation as part of a probe into an alleged spying case, the prosecutor's office said in a statement yesterday.

The move was widely expected as part of the investigation into the hiring by BBVA of ex-police chief, Jose Manuel Villarejo.

News websites El Confidencial and reported in January that Spain's second-biggest bank had hired Jose Manuel Villarejo's firm, Grupo Cenyt, to investigate officials of construction company Sacyr as part of efforts to stop a takeover bid by the company in 2004.

BBVA declined to comment on the prosecutor's move. The bank has officially acknowledged that it hired Grupo Cenyt, a security firm owned by Villarejo, who was arrested in 2017 as part of a separate investigation and remains in jail. But it says it has not found any evidence of spying.

The prosecutor said in the statement that it wanted BBVA to be put under investigation "as a legal entity for acts that would constitute offences of bribery, disclosure of secrets and corruption in business".

It added that documents seized during the investigation would prove that the hiring and allegedly illegal payments to Cenyt affected several sensitive areas of the bank and various executives of the institution, without naming them.

It is now up to investigative judge, Manuel Garcia-Castellon, to follow up or not on the prosecutor's request.

After the recent reform of Spain's criminal law, BBVA would at most face fines if found guilty.