Santander sells ABN unit for £1.7bn profit

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The Independent Online

Santander, part of the consortium that bought ABN Amro this summer, has made a ¿2.4bn (£1.7bn) profit on the Dutch group's controversial Italian banking business just weeks after the deal closed.

The Spanish banking group Santander has agreed to sell Antonveneta to Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world's oldest bank, for ¿9bn. The consortium, which also comprised Royal Bank of Scotland and Fortis, valued Antonveneta at ¿6.6bn during the negotiations for ABN, which it won in October.

While Antonveneta is hardly a household name outside Italy, the takeover battle for the Padua-based bank shook the Italian financial market to its core over complaints of national protectionism and forced the resignation of the governor of the Bank of Italy.

ABN launched a ¿6.3bn takeover bid for the group in March 2005, but faced a strong challenge from the regional group Banca Popolare di Lodi. Its rival's aggressive stakebuilding led the Dutch bank to complain to the European Commission that the Bank of Italy had favoured the domestic bank.

The takeover battle was subsequently investigated by the local regulator Consob, Rome prosecutors, magistrates in Milan and the courts in Padua. Lodi's bid collapsed in August amid recriminations of market manipulation, and ABN finally landed the asset for ¿7.6bn in early 2006. After this week's announcement, the asset is back in Italian hands less than two years later.