Spain's richest man faces pension fraud trial

24th January 2005, Comments 0 comments

26 January 2005, MADRID-Dressed in a sobre suit and with his trademark red Banco Santander tie, Spain's richest man Emilio Botin arrived in court to face trial over alleged pension provision irregularities.

26 January 2005

MADRID-Dressed in a sobre suit and with his trademark red Banco Santander tie, Spain's richest man Emilio Botin arrived in court to face trial over alleged pension provision irregularities.

Botin, head of Spain's largest bank Banco Santander Central Hispano (SCH) and one of Europe's most powerful banking figures, has been described in his own country as "the emperor of banking".

Last year's acquisition by SCH of Britain's Abbey National for a total of EUR 13.19 billion (USD 17.12 billion) turned Spain's main player into the world's tenth-largest bank as the emperor set his sights firmly on the global stage.

The 70-year-old, born in the northern coastal city of Santander, is the scion of a true banking dynasty stretching across four generations with the move for Abbey proving a veritable coup.

The balding but bushy-eye-browed Botin, who is almost never to be seen without his Santander-logo red tie, is the unquestioned master of all he surveys at the bank, which employs more than 100,000 people and which has a strong Latin American presence as well as 11 European countries.

"He is a very ambitious man, slow to trust anyone and whose decisions nobody at the bank dares to call into question," says a union source with close knowledge of how Botin's world works.

"He lives for the bank 24 hours a day and can call up a director general at any hour," says the source, who additionally reveals that one of Botin's maxims is "devour them before they devour you."

Botin has amassed one of the largest fortunes in Spain and his family owns 1.77 percent of SCH, now the number one bank in the euro zone by market capitalisation since adding Abbey to its portfolio.

A law and economics graduate, Botin joined the bank at 24, working under the watchful eye of his father.

In 1986 he took the reins himself with the bank at that time ranked seven in Spain.

He quickly made his presence and eye for a deal felt, launching a revolutionary account in September 1989, the "Supercuenta," a deposit account paying 11 percent. As a result, SCH saw its market share rise by 50 percent.

Soon afterwards, taking his cue from his love of Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu's Art of War-generally recognised as the oldest military treatise in the world -- Botin set off in search of the banking conquest of South America.

In recent years, SCH has under Botin's stewardship invested more than EUR 17 bn euros in Latin America, a sum unmatched by any other bank.

Botin, as keen to get in a round of golf as he is to fly round the world on his private jet, turned to domestic prey in 1994 with the purchase of Banesto bank, an acquisition which vaulted Santander into top spot in the Spanish sector.

Five years later, he sprang a surprise in announcing the merger of Santander with Banco Central Hispano (BCH) in the then largest deal of its kind in Spain.

For two-and-a-half years he would share the chairman's post with BCH chairman Jose Maria Amusategui, who in 2001 took early retirement, seemingly the loser in a battle for supremacy with Botin.

In line with family tradition Botin has been able to swim with the political tide in all directions.

Close to former conservative prime minister Jose Maria Aznar he has since managed to broker good relations with Socialist Jose Luis Rodrigez Zapatero, elected last April.

In Brazil, a key SCH market in Latin America, he has spoken fervently in favour of leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Botin tends to leave mundane visits and cultural gatherings alike to his wife of Irish descent, Paloma O'Shea, who has for the past 15 years organised an international piano competition.

Botin is a father of six, with daughter Ana Patricia notably the president of Banesto, one of the jewels in the SCH group crown which she may well end up wearing in her father's stead.

Yet for now, court cases and his 70 years permitting, he has yet to show any sign of setting a date for his retirement, which theoretically is in 2006.

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news

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