Alfredo Saenz quits Santander after three years of legal wranglings

Santander's chief executive Alfredo Saenz quit as head of the eurozone's largest bank yesterday following a lengthy and damaging legal dispute.

Mr Saenz, 70, has been dogged by controversy ever since he was convicted of making false accusations against debtors while head of Banesto bank in 2003 before it was taken over by Santander.

He received a suspended prison sentence in 2009 but was later pardoned by the former Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

However, earlier this year Spain's Supreme Court decided to re-instate the conviction in a move that compromised his position at the helm of the group. The Bank of Spain also started new proceedings, after the Government passed a law on banking ethics, that would have decided his fate.

Santander said in a statement that Mr Saenz was stepping down voluntarily and thanked him for his work at the bank, during which time it had grown fourfold.

The bank did not say how much Mr Saenz would be compensated on leaving although his accumulated pension rights are just over €88m (£74m), according to Santander's audited accounts. He will be replaced by Javier Marin Romano, the head of the global insurance, asset management and private-banking division.

Santander has become a major force in British banking over the past decade through the combination of Abbey, Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley.

The banking group now has 14.6 million retail customers across the UK and is one of the country's largest mortgage lenders. It is also now leading a push into small business loans. For almost three years, the Santander UK business has been led by Ana Botin, the daughter of the group chairman Emilio Botin.