Santander CEO Saenz steps down after legal battle

Mon Apr 29, 2013 9:30am EDT
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By Carlos Ruano

MADRID (Reuters) - Alfredo Saenz, 70-year-old chief executive of the euro zone's biggest bank, Santander (SAN.MC: Quote), stepped down on Monday after a prolonged legal battle over whether he should be barred from banking due to a criminal conviction.

Saenz was under intense pressure from Spain's central bank, which was looking into whether he was fit to continue as a banker under new rules that give the regulator wide discretion when deciding such issues.

Santander said in a statement that Saenz, who has worked closely with chairman Emilio Botin for 20 years, was stepping down voluntarily and thanked him for his work at the bank, which has quadrupled in size over that time.

In an extraordinary meeting on Monday, Santander's board named Javier Marin, a 46-year-old Botin confidante who has held several executive positions within the group, as the bank's new chief executive.

Saenz was seen as a skilled retail banker, while Botin was the dealmaker. Together they transformed the bank from a regional lender to an international powerhouse.

Saenz was one of the few Santander executives that Botin would delegate to, according to a source who has worked with upper management at the bank, and the chairman had publicly defended the CEO and resisted pressure for him to step down.

A source with knowledge of the proceedings said Santander had had a number of conversations with the central bank over Saenz and his successor. "Saenz's voluntary resignation is a non-traumatic close to this chapter," the source said.

Saenz's stepping down lets the central bank off the hook in making a tough decision after a number of conflicting decisions by courts and the government.   Continued...

Alfredo Saenz, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Spanish bank Santander, speaks during a news conference to present the company's first quarter profit in Boadilla del Monte, near Madrid, April 26, 2012. REUTERS/Sergio Perez