(Adds Santander statement)
By Angus Berwick and Jesús Aguado
MADRID May 3 Spain's High Court is to question
seven current and former Banco Santander bankers,
including a current non-executive board member, as part of a
probe triggered by leaks of tax information from HSBC's
Swiss private bank.
The court said in a ruling published on Wednesday it had
decided to summon the bankers after analysing documents provided
by Santander and French bank BNP Paribas over the past
year, as well as reports from Bank of Spain inspectors.
These documents and reports revealed funds were moved
between Santander, BNP and HSBC, hidden from tax authorities,
which could constitute money laundering, Judge Jose de la Mata
said in the ruling on Wednesday.
Three current and former bankers from BNP Paribas's
Spanish unit would also be summoned to the hearings
which are set to begin on June 12, he added.
Santander, the euro zone's largest bank by market value,
said in a statement it had complied with the law at all time and
had actively cooperated with the court by providing all the
documentation and information requested.
Representatives for BNP Paribas Spain declined to comment,
while the bankers named could not immediately be reached.
The Spanish investigation is one of many by national tax
authorities as a result of the leak in 2008 of client data
belonging to HSBC's private bank by Herve Falciani, a former IT
employee at the bank. France, Austria, Belgium and Argentina
have launched their own investigations.
Falciani, a French citizen, has said he is a whistleblower
trying to help governments track down citizens who used Swiss
accounts to evade tax. In 2015 a Swiss court sentenced him, in
his absence, to five years in prison for aggravated industrial
The High Court said it will question Ignacio Benjumea Cabeza
de Vaca, former head of Santander's analysis and resolution
committee and a current non-executive board member; Jose Manuel
Araluce Larraz, former head of compliance; and five other
current and former senior compliance officials at the Spanish
Reuters was not immediately able to contact Benjumea Cabeza
de Vaca, while Araluce Larraz did not reply to a message via
The court also said it will question Jose Andres Fernandez
Espejel, former head of compliance at BNP Paribas Spain, and two
other senior compliance officials. Fernandez Espejel did not
reply to a Linkedin message sent by Reuters.
Under the Spanish legal system people can be named as formal
suspects until a more detailed investigation is carried out.
Between 2005 and 2008, HSBC's Swiss private bank channelled
almost 74 million euros ($81 million) through Santander to pay
clients at other banks, according to the court ruling. The
transfers had stopped by 2010, after the banks began to request
identification from people making and receiving transfers.
($1 = 0.9164 euros)
(Editing by Julien Toyer, Alexander Smith and David Evans)