Santander CEO Saenz Steps Down After Legal Battle

Spain’s Banco Santander (NYSE:SAN) announced Monday that Chief Executive Alfredo Saenz is stepping down, following a legal battle that spanned two decades.

Santander, the euro zone’s largest bank by market value, named current Managing Director Javier Marin its next CEO.

The bank did not provide a reason for Saenz’s decision to resign, merely saying he is leaving voluntarily.

A legal battle began in 2009 when Saenz, 70, was convicted of making false criminal accusations against shareholders in Santander-owned Banesto to pressure them to pay a debt. The case first arose 15 years earlier.

In 2011, Spain's Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero pardoned Saenz, who lost a series of appeals. Saenz potentially could have been sentenced to three months in prison.

In February, the Supreme Court said the pardon would not exempt him from sanctions imposed by the industry. But an executive order by Spain’s new conservative government was approved earlier this month, relaxing its conduct standard for bankers. The government denied its decision was related to the court’s ruling for Saenz.

Meanwhile, the country’s central bank, the Bank of Spain, began proceedings this month to debate whether Saenz should be barred from the industry.

U.S. shares of Banco Santander were up 1.26% at $7.23 in early morning trading.