Botin refuses to reply as bank trial resumes

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SPAIN'S MOST powerful banker, Emilio Botin, who is charged with misspending millions of euros in retirement payments for two bank executives, refused to answer his accusers' questions in Madrid's national court yesterday.

The boss of Spain's No 1 bank, Santander Central Hispano, which bought Abbey National in Europe's biggest cross-border raid, is accused of misspending Û160m of bank funds. "I'm not going to reply to this private accusation," Mr Botin said, as the trial resumed in a high-security courtroom usually reserved for terrorism cases.

While the plaintiffs' lawyers rattled off 120 questions, Mr Botin sat in silence, pointedly looking the other way. He said their purpose was to "persecute" the bank, and he would answer questions only from the public prosecutor and the defence.

Mr Botin, 70, one of Spain's richest men, is being tried alongside the former directors Jose Maria Amusategui and Jose Angel Corcostegui, who received Û56m and Û108m each to retire early from SCH's board, the first in 2001 and the second in 2002.

Among the questions put to Mr Botin was whether the pension deals agreed with Mr Amusategui and Mr Corcostegui sought to remove their possible objections to the fusion of Banco Santander and Banco Central Hispano, with Mr Botin as undisputed boss of the merged bank.

He later testified before prosecutors, describing Mr Corcostegui as "brilliant", but when Mr Botin was asked why the former director was paid to retire at 50, the judge recessed the trial.

The complaint was brought by two shareholders who claim the payments were product of a secret deal that amounted to "disloyal management". Santander insists the disputed payments were carried out "in accordance with the law", and approved by the board and the shareholders.