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Ana Botin and Andrea Orcel come face to face in Santander court battle

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Italian banker Andrea Orcel and Banco Santander's chairwoman Ana Patricia Botin attend a trial against Santander over the bank's withdrawal of a CEO job offer to Orcel
Italian banker Andrea Orcel and Banco Santander's chairwoman Ana Patricia Botin attend a trial against Santander over the bank's withdrawal of a CEO job offer to Orcel

Ana Botín, the Santander chairman, has argued that Andrea Orcel never received a contract to become its chief executive as a court battle over the bank’s decision to change its mind on hiring him begins in Madrid.

The Spanish lender, which has a big UK presence, offered the UBS banker the top job in late 2018 after he had spent more than two decades advising Santander. During that time he developed a close relationship with the wealthy Botín family, who founded and continue to run the bank.

However, Santander later decided not to proceed with the appointment due to the “unacceptable” costs of compensating him for past remuneration from UBS following months of talks with the Swiss bank.

Mr Orcel, who became the chief executive of Italian bank UniCredit last month, is suing Santander over its decision.

He is claiming tens of millions of euros in lost pay but has cut the period he wants to be compensated for from five to two years to reflect his new role at UniCredit, sources told Bloomberg.

In a long-awaited case Ms Botin told a Madrid court on Wednesday that his appointment was “never formalised” because “the contract was never fulfilled” as terms were still being discussed.

The case was then paused after witnesses from Mr Orcel’s former employer UBS failed to appear. UBS declined to comment.

Ana Botin
Ana Botin

Santander’s decision not to hire Mr Orcel in 2019 raised eyebrows across the finance industry as banks routinely buy new hires out of their long-term compensation schemes and should be adept at determining the cost.

However the Spanish lender has always insisted that a “rigorous process of governance was followed” and that a contract had never been signed, previously arguing that “an offer letter is not a contract as required by Spanish law”.

It has previously accused Mr Orcel of “dubious ethical and moral behavior” by claiming that he recorded private conversations “without the other party’s knowledge or consent”.

Mr Orcel pocketed a £17m “golden hello” when he joined UBS in 2013 – a sum called “outrageous” by politicians in Switzerland at the time.

He was also accused of being a “deal junkie” and the “Ronaldo of banking” when he appeared before the British banking standards commission that same year.