Santander’s Spanish CEO may be forced to quit

SANTANDER’S chief executive Alfredo Sáenz is set to be barred from banking and sentenced to eight months in jail by Spain’s supreme court, according to reports.

Spain’s El Mundo newspaper said yesterday, without citing sources, that Sáenz will be given a longer sentence than the one he appealed after being convicted of bringing false charges against shareholders in December 2009.

Santander’s chairman, Emilio Botin – father of Ana Patricia Botin, chief executive of Santander UK – said he had not seen the sentence and Santander refused to comment.

The charges relate to Sáenz’s time as chief executive of Spanish retail bank Banesto, which is owned by Santander.

Courts convicted Sáenz of wrongly claiming that shareholders owed the bank money, but the prosecution in the case said his sentence was too lenient. The shareholders themselves spent time in jail while being investigated.

However, even if Sáenz is awarded a harsher sentence this time around, he will not go to prison because under Spanish law, sentences under two years are not served.

If Sáenz’s conviction were to be confirmed, he is expected to delay any supreme court move against him by four or five months by appealing on technical grounds. He could then take the case to Spain’s highest court, the constitutional court, potentially staving off a final decision for several years, and meanwhile enabling him to remain in his post.

Sáenz cemented his reputation in the 1990s by helping turn around Banesto after Santander took it over.

Santander’s shares closed down on the news yesterday, falling 1.22 per cent yesterday at €8.40.