Santander boss Saenz bows to pressure

Alfredo Saenz, the 70-year-old chief executive of banking giant Santander, stepped down yesterday after a lengthy 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 regulatory rules.

Santander said in a statement that Saenz, who has worked closely with chairman Emilio Botin for 20 years, was stepping down voluntarily from the bank.

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In an extraordinary meeting yesterday, 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’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.

“This is a very positive decision for banking stability and for Santander,” a central bank source said. Saenz was convicted in 2009 for making false accusations against debtors when he headed Banesto bank, now part of Santander.