The taking of the BBVA | Economy

The taking of the BBVA | Economy


Francisco González He closed his professional career on December 31st. After almost 20 years as president of BBVA, he left office to remain as the bank's president of honor and president of the BBVA Foundation. His career under the spotlight began much earlier: when he reached the presidency of the former Argentaria bank after being placed by the PP government, after José María Aznar won the 1996 elections. Three years later, he merged the bank with BBV, giving rise to to BBVA, which has remained in the international sphere. It leaves an entity that is worth half of Santander, Gonzalez's great obsession, even though BBVA was more valuable when it became president. His professional beginnings were less brilliant, he spent part of his youth in Buenos Aires and started as a computer scientist in Nixdorf. Later he became an exchange agent and Stock Exchange.

But his story is marked by a road full of obstacles that has been jumping with the typical ability of someone willing to eat the world at any price. He overcame the inconvenience caused by his participation in the sale of Oil Dor, a gas station network project sold to Banesto in which he had 4% and which appeared in the summary for which Mario Conde was convicted; it was punctuated by irregularities in the sale of FG Inversiones Bursátiles to Merrill Lynch, which found an accounting gap of 800 million pesetas (5.24 million euros), ratified by the State; his pulse did not tremble for, once the merger of Argentaria with BBV and installed as co-president of BBVA, cast out the directors and directors of the former BBV for the existence of some secret accounts in the Jersey tax haven and of pension funds collected from these accounts. Nor when he managed to stop the siege of the construction company Sacyr to take control of the bank in an operation that seemed endorsed by the Zapatero government.

Now, already retired, his curriculum is splashed by espionage that supposedly commissioned former commissioner José Manuel Villarejo in this harassment of Sacyr between the end of 2004 and the beginning of 2005. Justice, the CNMV and the bank have opened investigations. Precisely, now is waiting for what can be decided by the council of the entity, which meets this week. This episode can drastically change the culmination of his career, as a driver of digital transformation, to a big fudge.

Francisco González, in 1998, shortly after being appointed president of Argentaria
Francisco González, in 1998, shortly after being appointed president of Argentaria

The assault on the throne

"These guys are going to get me to press the atomic button." Francisco González, a man with a reputation for keeping his thoughts very deep, let out in a low voice that reverie that did not go unnoticed by one of his collaborators. Then they exchanged glances, twisted the gesture and did not comment further. It was the fall of 2001 and Gonzalez, better known by his initials FG, directed that anger against the directors of the former BBV, the entity with which Argentaria had merged in October 1999. José María Aznar placed him in Argentaria after the elections of 1996. From there he achieved the presidency of BBVA, shared with Emilio Ybarra.

The relations between the two entities, of very different cultures, were not good and they were getting worse. FG felt none the worse for the team led by the executive vice president at BBVA, Pedro Luis Uriarte, who had snatched the ostentatious office of the Torre Azca. But there was a secret weapon, that atomic button, consisting of secret accounts that the BBV had kept in the tax haven of Jersey, in the Channel Islands, and pension funds, opened in March 2000 to the 22 directors from the BBV and two former directors as compensation for the salary reduction they had suffered in the merger. If I pressed the button they would all go through the air.

And it did not take long to squeeze it. There was a real cataclysm that led to the drip resignation of the directors involved before the shareholders' meeting was held on April 27, 2002. FG, released from Neguri's seal, he became owner and lord of the house. He formed a council to his liking with the blessing of Aznar and began the race to his particular Olympus. A race with more shadows than lights that has lasted until the end of 2018, when he submitted his resignation and became president of honor of the bank and president of the BBVA Foundation.

Paco, the Argentine

Paco the Argentine, as he was called when he returned from Buenos Aires to his hometown of Chantada (Lugo), landed in the banking sector on the recommendation of Manuel Pizarro, agent of exchange and Bolsa like him and possibly one of the few friends he says he has . He belonged to the group elected by the right to control the privatized companies. In that bouquet were, in addition to him and Pizarro, César Alierta, Juan Villalonga, Miguel Blesa, Alfonso Cortina and Jaime Caruana, whom Aznar became governor of the Bank of Spain.

Pedro Luis Uriarte, in 1999.
Pedro Luis Uriarte, in 1999.

FG was fortunate in the banking group formed by the old public bank whose transformation Francisco Luzón had directed, although surely he would have liked more Telefónica, which Aznar entrusted to his classmate at the Colegio del Pilar, Juan Villalonga. He lacked banking experience, but for Aznar he was part of "those people who until now had not been in the front line and who participated in our liberalizing political-economic project for a different Spain".

Since no one is bitter, the broker became a banker and soon marked a very peculiar mark that has developed in the more than 22 years in which he has been at the head of Argentaria and BBVA. He turned to what he knew, digitalization, to the detriment of what he did not understand and did not attract, the complex commercial banking. Few dates before, had sold FG Inversiones to Merrill Lynch for 3,700 million pesetas after this bank found an accounting gap and reduced the initial figure by 800 million.

A fusion cooked in Washington

Soon after being in Argentaria I was already convinced that the bank needed to grow and digitalize. "The first years were focused on dressing the bride and facing a merger," says a former manager. The integration of Santander and the BCH in January 1999 was the spur, since the BBV had to give an immediate response to the pulse it had with Emilio Botín. The Basque bank, which had failed in the merger of the Italian UniCredito, had two options: the Popular or Argentaria. The Popular gave pumpkins before they pretended to him. So there was Argentaria, in which BBV had bought 4.9% in shares placed in Jersey. They joined hunger and the desire to eat and the marriage was consolidated in an IMF assembly in Washington and it was signed nine months after the BSCH was born.

In those negotiations, FG already showed its hidden face by not informing any of its closest collaborators. The CEO, Francisco Gómez Roldán, learned from the press, to the point that he even suggested to the bank's communication services that they had to deny the information. Normally, the large bank that swallows the small one compensates for the takeover in exchange for a shareholder bonus. FG, anxious of the operation, renounced this bonus for the shareholders of Argentaria in order to become president in two years. Nor did he appoint an advisory bank and embraced the one who had the BBV, coincidentally Merrill Lynch.

And sacrificed the majority of managers of Argentaria. A former counselor maintains that there was the profile of killer of FG. A report that years later his enemies managed and even ran in the government, describes him "as a man who handles the times very well and who is a theoretician and practical power, but who shows great insecurity and is surrounded by a faithful bodyguard ". "He became a champion of ethical and electronic banking," says another source. One proof of this is that resisted the takeover of the Mexican Bancomer, today a jewel of the group and key to overcome the crisis.

After the merger, the bank readjusted the salaries of the directors for the difference between one bank and another. The remuneration of the BBV was reduced 10 million pesetas, up to 75, and that of the Argentaria rose by 30 million. Before that, Emilio Ybarra announced to his own that he had negotiated with FG a compensation via pension funds managed by Alico in Delaware (USA), a state with tax advantages. For this he gave the order to transfer 19.2 million euros to the accounts of Jersey.

The secret accounts of Jersey

What was never clear is whether Ybarra had told FG the existence of these secret accounts before the merger. These came from the old Vizcaya, who deposited them in Jersey in 1987 after a struggle with KIO. Most of the sources consulted agree that Ybarra did it months after the merger, as González declared before the judge. FG, in addition, denied the existence of the agreement with Ybarra to pay pensions, which he refused to sign, and commented: "This must be known by the Bank of Spain."

Another source who also asks for anonymity says, however, that FG could have privileged information from Villalonga or Aznar, since the purchase of Argentines by the BBV in 1996 was made by Banker Trust when it was directed in Spain by Villalonga.

The perfect storm was brewing that would ruin all the representatives of the old BBV. I just had to press the atomic button. The fact is that Ybarra had surrendered in his arms and favored his departure, scheduled for two years of co-presidency.

"The BBV councilors had a lack of rennet to react, they did not fight," says a former director, who adds that, nevertheless, the names of the directors Alfonso Cortina, at the time president of Repsol appointed by the Government, were handled. and of Jesús María Caínzos, the only vice president appointed by Argentaria, also close to power, who was considered a good man. Being a candidate did not do the former pharmacist a favor, which would soon be fulminated by FG. Caínzos left the entity with a plea before the board of the bad commercial trajectory of BBVA.

The fact is that FG did not miss the opportunity to get strong and take off the lamb skin that took the first months of BBVA. There are sources that affirm that "the hosts of Uriarte thought that he was not going to take the pressure and that he would throw in the towel before the first two years were completed". That would have meant renouncing the sole presidency that, according to the pact, would assume until the age of 65, that is, from 2002 to 2009. But they did not know FG. In addition, their interests coincided with those of Aznar, who wanted to lament the aristocracy of Neguri, which he considered in the hands of the PNV and even more favorable to the PSOE than to the PP. So there was no hesitation and, backed by Aznar and Caruana, he faced the beheading. It went for everyone. FG sent Angel Cano, one of his followers who would eventually appoint CEO, to Zurich, along with Luis Bastida, of the BBV, to check the secret accounts, among which there was one of the Bishopric of Bilbao.

Aznar's support

Ybarra met with Caruana, who pointed to the exit door. "This is very serious," he said. Soon he submitted the resignation with Uriarte, who would be replaced by José Ignacio Goirigolzarri. With this operation, FG got rid of Uriarte, who had three years left and would have been his biggest counterpower. In April the successive resignations of the BBV advisors took place, on which the sword of Judge Baltasar Garzón, who followed the Filesa case of irregular financing of the PSOE and whom Anticorruption had asked him to intervene, already hung.

Garzón used the letter of resignation of Óscar Fanjul, counselor on behalf of Alicia Koplowitz. In it he said that he did not know that the funds were not reflected in the bank's accounts, that the operation was canceled months later and that the bank ended up regulating the situation. Garzón posed a confrontation between Ybarra and FG, whose version was more credible. Gonzalez even said that "Ybarra was in a position to lie." Garzon exculpated everyone except Ybarra and three managers (Bastida, Molinuevo and Concejo). All were acquitted in 2007 by the Supreme Court.


This Monday, Chapter 2 is published: The big fudge

Chronology

  • March 1996. Francisco González sells FG Inversiones Bursátiles, which he had created in 1987, to Merrill Lynch for 3,700 million pesetas (22 million euros).
  • May 17, 1996. Nomination of González as president of Argentaria by the Aznar government to replace Francisco Luzón.
  • October 18, 1999. Fusion of BBV and Argentaria in BBVA. Nine months earlier Santander and BCH had merged into the BSCH.
  • March 21, 2000. The bank distributes the pension funds to 22 directors and two former directors.
  • November 14, 2001. Emilio Ybarra explains to the Bank of Spain that it was he who decided to create the pension funds to compensate for the salary reduction of the directors of the former BBV.
  • December 15, 2001. Pedro Luis Uriarte and Ybarra announce that they are moving out of the bank after the scandal broke out.
  • December 20, 2001. Appointment of José Ignacio Goirigolzarri as CEO, position held until December 2009.
  • March 23, 2002. The Bank of Spain issues BBVA a secret account in Jersey and conceals more than 37,000 million pesetas (225 million euros).
  • April 10, 2002. The Anticorruption Prosecutor's Office asks Judge Garzón to assume the case of the BBV's secret accounts.
  • April 11, 2002. Emilio Ybarra leaves the bank.
  • April 17, 2002. The three directors of the former BBV (Óscar Fanjul, Juan Entrecanales and Alfonso Cortina) resign, on the eve of the meeting.
  • April 26, 2002. The last three BBV directors (Ybarra, Icaza and Aresti) resign, one day before the meeting. The only one left of the BBV is Goirigolzarri as CEO.
  • May 7, 2002. Appointments of new directors: Ricardo Lacasa, Susana Rodriguez Vidarte and Román Knörr. That same day, Francisgo González reports that there were 120 residents in Spain with opaque products from Privanza, among them the Bishopric of Bilbao.
  • May 29, 2002. The CNMV writes to BBVA for hiding information.
  • April 5, 2002. FG declares at the Hearing on the Jersey accounts.
  • June 10, 2002. Appear in the National Court between Emilio Ybarra and Francisco González before Judge Garzón.
  • June 18, 2002. Ybarra testifies individually before Judge Garzón.
  • November 6, 2002. González declares in Mexico that the patron of the bank is the Constitution and the Basque statute.
  • October 23, 2003. The Court exculpates the accused less Ybarra and three directors (Bastida, Molinuevo and Council) for misappropriation. The Supreme Court subsequently absolves Ybarra from the case of the secret accounts and on April 4, 2017 sanctions BBVA with three million for tax evasion in tax havens.
  • July 2003. Jesús Caínzos, vice president of BBVA, leaves the bank. Only Gregorio Marañón supports him, who leaves in February 2004.

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