MADRID (Reuters) - Shareholders in Banco Popular have asked Spain’s anti-corruption prosecutor to investigate the collapse of the lender, which had to be rescued last week by Santander after a run on its deposits caused regulators to intervene.
Around 400 retail investors, represented by the Spanish Association of Minority Shareholders, asked Spain’s Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office on June 8 to investigate whether Popular’s chairman Emilio Saracho and former board member Antonio del Valle misled the market and accelerated the bank’s demise, a document reviewed by Reuters shows.
The prosecutor’s office, which acknowledged the complaint, did not say whether it will pursue the matter.
Saracho did not reply to an email seeking comment and a spokesman for Ve Por Mas, a financial group controlled by del Valle’s family, said del Valle had no comment.
In a separate development, Spanish consumer group OCU said on Monday it had filed a lawsuit with the High Court against Popular’s previous board, in which it alleges false accounting.
Banco Popular declined to comment on either action and sources told Reuters there was not yet any joint defense strategy by the former board members and lawyers had not yet been appointed.
Asked about the OCU claim on Monday, Popular’s former chairman Angel Ron told esRadio:
“If someone brings forward charges against us accusing us of committing a crime we have never committed, we would respond with the legal tools at our disposal, with calm, knowing that the work has been done well, in accordance with the opinion of the authorities that show that the bank was solvent and that there has been a liquidity problem in recent weeks.”
As part of the rescue, which involved activating Europe’s strict new bank resolution regime, Santander bought Popular for 1 euro, while shareholders and junior bond investors saw their investments wiped out.
Any legal action taken against Popular would become the responsibility of Santander, and could take years to resolve based on previous such cases.
OCU said it had received inquiries from shareholders who subscribed to Popular’s 2.5 billion euro (2.8 billion) capital increase in May 2016. The investors said they were not privy to the correct financial information, it added.
OCU sent a letter to the Economy Ministry and Bank of Spain last week asking that Popular’s 300,000 retail investors should have any claims heard quickly, rather than the years lawsuits such as theirs normally take to resolve.
Rival Spanish lender Bankia was taken over by the government in 2012, just a year after a listing in which hundreds of thousands of small investors bought shares. It was subject to a number of court cases before eventually agreeing last year to pay them 1.5 billion euros in compensation.
($1 = 0.8952 euros)
Aditional reporting by Simon Jessop in London and Stefanie Eschenbacher in Mexico City; Editing by Rachel Armstrong and Alexander Smith