The Shark

12th May 2004, Comments 0 comments

Spain's biggest banker is embroiled in the largest financial scandal to hit the country in years. But some feel it lacks the glamour of the downfall four years ago of the banker they called 'The Shark'. Graham Keeley reports.

Mario Conde, known as The Shark

In Spain's financial world, he is as big a fish as it gets.

Emilio Botin is one of the richest men in Spain – his family has been running the Banco Santander, Spain's biggest bank, since 1857.

He is also on Forbes' rich list.

But Botin is worried - and so he should be.

He has been accused of misappropriation of funds and irresponsible management.
In a separate case, he is accused of helping clients to evade taxes.

Two former colleagues, Jose Maria Amusategui and Angel Corcostegui, are also accused of misappropriating funds.

The prosecutor is asking Botin to serve up to 12 years behind bars if convicted. His co-accused both face up to eight years in jail.

Emilio Botin runs Banco Santander

Botin and the others, of course, deny the charges.

But, according to Nacho Cardero, of Spanish business magazine La Clave (The Key), sources claim "Botin is worried and, above all, angry. The point is how could he end up in this situation?"

Emilio Botin Sanz de Sautuola, 70, would certainly be a big catch, if prosecutors had their way.

But beyond Botin's predicament, other observers believe the scandal may highlight more about the Spanish banking system.

The Financial Times commented after Botin was charged: "The case could become a trial of the practices of corporate management, even though the legal experts doubt that they are going to condemn anyone."

The last big banking scandal also helped put pay to the former Socialist government of Felipe Gonzalez.

*quote1*With a new Socialist administration recently arrived in office, prime minister Jose Lluis Rodriguez Zapatero will be anxious to see that another financial scandal does not do the same for his government.

Gonzalez's administration was rocked by the Mario Conde scandal, which some feel has more glamour than that of Botin.

Conde, known affectionately as 'The Shark', was jailed in 2000 for ten years for his role in the country's biggest bank collapse.

Conde, who symbolised Spain's 1980s get-rich-quick boom, was found guilty of fraud and embezzlement during his six years as chairman of Banco Espanol de Credito, known as Banesto.

He was acquitted of six other charges after a two-year trial, the longest in Spanish legal history.

The prosecution had asked for a sentence of 50 years following Conde's conviction.

Angel Corcostegui is also accused

The proceedings followed Banesto's collapse with debts of EUR 3.3 billion in 1993, when the Bank of Spain removed Conde and took control.

He and 10 former members of his board were accused of being responsible for the disappearance of a large part of that money, charges they have always denied.

Three of his collaborators at the bank were also found guilty and jailed, while seven other co-defendants were absolved of all charges.

Arturo Romani, Banesto vice-president, was handed a term of almost 14 years, while Fernando Garra and Rafael Perez Escolar were both sentenced to six years.

Conde, who was not present in court to hear sentencing, maintained throughout that the charges against him were politically motivated.

He even made a foray into politics with a failed run to become prime minister.
He was convicted in 1998 in a separate case of defrauding Banesto, but served only 16 months of a four-year sentence before being released for good behaviour.

*quote2*For many the debonair financier was symbolic of the new affluent and sophisticated Spaniards of the 1980s, not afraid to flaunt their wealth after the austere years of General Franco's dictatorship.

His lengthy trial provided an insight into the series of political and financial scandals which tarnished the then socialist government of Felipe Gonzalez.

After he took control of the bank from his father 18 years ago, Botin built Santander into the 13th largest banking gro

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