Santander, UK regulator reviewing allegations of senior banker's misconduct


LONDON, Dec 21 (Reuters) - Spanish bank Santander and Britain's FCA financial watchdog are reviewing allegations that the chief risk officer at Santander's UK investment bank harassed and bullied staff, according to sources familiar with the matter and recent communications seen by Reuters.

Banco Santander SA, Spain's biggest bank, is working with law firm Gibson Dunn to review the allegations about Eduardo Consolini Bastida's conduct, which allegedly involved at least three employees of the bank, according to the sources and communications.

Bastida, aged 56, referred questions to the Santander press office when contacted by Reuters by email and by WhatsApp.

A spokesman for Madrid-based Santander declined to comment.

The Financial Conduct Authority, which regulates financial institutions in the United Kingdom, opened its own case in the autumn to assess the claims, sources with knowledge of the matter said.

Bastida is being examined by the bank for allegedly making jokes of a sexual nature and inappropriate comments to female employees at social gatherings with colleagues, according to the sources and communications. The allegations, which span several years, also include bullying of staff in the workplace, according to the sources and communications.

In at least three emails seen by Reuters and dating from late October, an executive at the investment bank said Bastida would take personal leave in November and that his direct reports would assume his responsibilities. Bastida had not returned to work as of Dec. 20, communications showed.

The probe is still ongoing and no conclusions have been reached yet, sources told Reuters.

Under the so-called senior manager regime, which was introduced by UK regulators in 2016 and which Bastida must comply with, executives who perform key roles in financial firms must meet a minimum standard of behaviour and instill a culture of personal accountability and good conduct across their firms.

Under the framework, the FCA and the Prudential Regulatory Authority (PRA), which oversees Britain's banks, hold top executives accountable and require that they are fit and proper to perform their role.

The FCA says its conduct rules "set basic standards of good personal conduct, against which we can hold people to account".

Failure to meet the requirements can lead to dismissal and regulators may withdraw approval if they consider that the individual "is not a fit and proper person to perform the function", according to the Financial Services and Markets Act.

An FCA spokeswoman said the watchdog could not comment on individual cases. Officials for the PRA declined to comment.

Santander shares are publicly traded in Madrid and its depositary receipts are traded in New York.

At Santander, Bastida leads a group of more than 30, sources said. Globally, the corporate and investment banking business accounted for 12% of Santander's revenue in 2021, according to the bank's filings.

This month, as Christmas celebrations approached, a memo to employees, including managers, of Santander's London investment banking unit, seen by Reuters, reminded staff that "the highest standards of conduct and behavior are expected from you and your teams".

Bastida joined Santander in late 2010 after working at London-based firms including VCM Fund Management LLP, according to the FCA register. He had started as an equity trader at ING Barings in New York and Sao Paulo, according to his profile on Linkedin.

Editing by Elisa Martinuzzi and Catherine Evans

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