Santander chief handed banking ban

ALFREDO Saenz, chief executive of Spanish bank Santander, was banned from working as a banker for three months by Spain’s Supreme Court yesterday.

The ruling, the latest in a 17-year legal battle over a conviction for false accusations against debtors, was an embarrassing blow to both 68-year-old Saenz and the bank, the Eurozone’s biggest lender.

Santander said Saenz, who has headed the bank for the past nine years, would appeal against the ban and reaffirmed the board’s support for him.

“With maximum respect for the judicial decisions, the board confirms its confidence in Mr. Alfredo Saenz so that he may continue to carry out his responsibilities as the bank’s chief executive officer,” it said in a statement.

The appeal process could take two to four years and Saenz will also ask the government to intercede with the Spanish courts to seek a suspended sentence, Santander said.

Saenz’s reputation as a top banker was sealed when he took over the helm of Banesto, now a Santander subsidiary. Saenz turned Banesto, the first Spanish bank to be bailed out by the Bank of Spain, into one of Spain’s best regarded mid-sized banks.

But in 1993 Saenz and fellow Banesto executives tasked with recovering loans made by the bank to shore up its finances were found to have falsely tried to force shareholders of one debtor to pay back the sum owed. The debtors were jailed for a short period in 2009.

Saenz was sentenced to six months and one day of prison in 2009 but has made several appeals. The new ruling confirms that earlier verdict, though in less harsh terms.

One of the five judges involved in the case had called for Saenz to be absolved.

Santander shares closed down 1.36 per cent at €8.17 yesterday.