* Departure follows regulatory crackdown
* Two savings and loans groups buy Speder’s stake (Adds detail)
By Gergely Szakacs
BUDAPEST, Oct 14 (Reuters) - Zoltan Speder, chairman of Hungary’s FHB Bank, resigned on Friday and sold his 14 percent stake in the lender after a regulatory crackdown and a probe by Hungarian authorities.
Speder’s departure follows a Hungarian government investigation earlier this year of his business interests as it tried to loosen the billionaire’s influence over its savings bank sector.
In June the central bank, run by Gyorgy Matolcsy, a close ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, fined FHB over a 2012 bond issue. FHB bought back the bond, hitting its capital position and prompting a review for a possible downgrade by Moody‘s.
“Zoltan Speder was the member and the chairman of the Board of Directors since 29 April 2008. He had (an) extraordinary part in the development of FHB Banking Group during the past years,” FHB said in a filing with the Budapest Stock Exchange announcing Speder’s resignation. It did not name a successor.
The bank did not say why Speder quit at FHB, the smaller of two listed local banks after OTP, central Europe’s largest independent lender. An FHB spokesman declined comment.
FHB said an asset management company controlled by Speder, A64 Vagyonkezelo, sold 15.57 million FHB shares at 480 forints ($1.77) each in an off-market transaction to savings and loans groups Fokusz Takarekszovetkezet and B3 TAKAREK Szovetkezet.
Speder sold the shares, representing a 14.35 percent stake in FHB, at a discount to Friday’s closing price of 499 forints, according to Reuters data.
Fokusz and B3 said the transaction would benefit FHB by providing a “transparent and predictable” ownership background as well as “outstanding potential for growth.”
Savings banks have been an important avenue for Orban to secure more than half of the bank sector in Hungarian hands, part of a maverick economic policy that has earned him criticism from the European Union.
On June 9, police raided FHB’s office and some of Speder’s other business interests such as the Hungarian Postal Service. His media company was also hit by a tax probe, and government-friendly media published reports sharply critical of Speder.
The reason and the timing of those moves was unclear, but analysts and media commentators suspect Speder, once close to Orban, fell out of favour with the premier.
Other parts of the banking industry also complained that FHB was enjoying tax breaks and other benefits intended for savings and loans banks, even though FHB is a classic commercial retail lender.
Shares in FHB, which has a market capitalisation of $119.3 million, have fallen 8.4 percent over the past three months, underperforming the blue chip index, which gained 4.5 percent.
Including FHB, the savings sector has a 9.1 percent market share by total assets, with about 1,500 branch offices and 1 million customers, according to data on its web site. ($1 = 271.8 forints) (Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Adrian Croft)