Confusion mounts over Banesto: Adviser's sums challenged on scale of crisis at Spanish bank

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

MADRID (Reuter) The Spanish authorities, under pressure from worried shareholders of the Banco Espanol de Credito, yesterday challenged an analysis of the financial prospects for the crisis-hit bank.

Last week, the Bank of Spain fired Banesto's chairman, Mario Conde, and his board and ignited Spain's biggest banking crisis in recent years, arguing that it was unable to meet its obligations.

But JP Morgan, the US investment house and Banesto's financial adviser, had put Banesto's needs substantially below the 503bn pesetas (pounds 2.4bn) the Bank of Spain says is needed to restore it to financial health, a Spanish monetary source said. Confusion over the exact scale of Banesto's troubles has contributed to growing concern among shareholders, who want the suspension of Banesto shares lifted.

'Morgan evidently considered that the Bank of Spain had been excessively prudent in its assessment,' the source said. 'They're in their rights but the situation was urgent.'

According to the Expansion newspaper, Morgan and Banesto's old management had estimated the bank's needs at 372bn pesetas, the biggest difference being in loan loss provisions.

A letter from Roberto Mendoza, Morgan's vice-president, to Luis Angel Rojo, the Bank of Spain's governor, on 27 December a day before the Banesto crisis erupted said that the bank had developed a plan to plug its deficit and that Morgan supported the plan.

But the monetary source said the letter did not offer sufficient guarantees. 'If the letter had represented a firmer commitment from New York, it might have received a different response,' the source said. El Pais, the Spanish paper, said Mr Mendoza had not told Denis Weatherstone, Morgan's chairman, of Banesto's true situation.

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