Santander's Orcel dispute set for trial with Botin a witness


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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Andrea Orcel, Banco Santander chairwoman Ana Botin and Banco Santander CEO Jose Antonio Alvarez are seen together at a meeting

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By Emma Pinedo and Jesús Aguado

MADRID (Reuters) – Santander’s (MC:) chairman Ana Botin will be called to trial as a witness next year after the Spanish bank and Italian banker Andrea Orcel could not agree an out-of-court deal in a row over its withdrawal of an offer to make him boss.

Orcel, who is among Europe’s highest profile investment bankers, is claiming breach of contract by Santander and suing for 112 million euros (103.33 million pounds).

He was offered the job of chief executive in September 2018 but Santander changed its mind the next January, saying it could not meet his pay demands in a rare U-turn involving such a high-profile appointment at a major bank.

Lawyers for both parties, wearing masks in the depleted court room to respect COVID-19 rules both told a preliminary hearing on Monday that they did not want an out-of-court deal.

This meant that a trial will go ahead and a date was set for March 10, 2021, with Santander’s Botin among the witnesses called to speak, the judge told the court.

UBS (S:) chairman Axel Weber will also be called as a witness. Orcel, who was head of UBS Group’s investment banking business at the time, resigned from the Swiss bank when he was offered the Santander job.

Neither Orcel nor Botin were in court on Monday for the preliminary hearing, which wrapped up after focusing on technicalities such as what procedural evidence and which witnesses would be accepted in the case.

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Santander’s very public U-turn on hiring Orcel and the legal dispute that followed has been of great in the wider financial community as top hirings and firings are generally done behind closed doors and conflicts resolved privately.

COVID-19 rules meant that the courtroom was only attended by the judge, members of Orcel’s and Santander’s legal team, a court secretary and a handful of reporters.

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