MADRID: Is there something fishy behind the rescue of Spain's Banco Popular? Questions are swirling over the last-minute buyout of the country's sixth largest bank by its bigger rival Santander.
On June 7, the European Central Bank (ECB) announced Banco Popular was "failing or likely to fail" and would be sold to Santander, the eurozone's largest bank, for a symbolic euro. This was the first time that such a decision had been taken by the ECB since it took over as Europe's banking supervisory authority in 2014. Keen to explain the operation, Spain's Economy Minister Luis de Guindos told parliament this week that, by June 6, Popular no longer had any liquidity and would not have been able to open its agencies the next day if it hadn't been bought. People's 60-billion-euro ($67-billion) savings were preserved and "not one euro of public funds" was spent in the rescue, he pointed out. But this did not pacify critics. The Expansion financial daily revealed that local authorities who had money in the bank had taken out their cash before the buyout, as had investment funds, adding to the liquidity crisis.
These withdrawals "coincided with the moment when national financial authorities were saying that 'Popular fulfilled regulation requirements'... and were trying to reassure savers," the daily said. More generally, "how did a 'zombie' bank keep afloat for five years? What was the role of the government and supervision authorities?", asked Socialist lawmaker Pedro Saura in parliament. He was referring to the period since the 2012 EU rescue of Spanish banks, which Popular refused, believing it could struggle through and survive by raising more capital. Then on Tuesday, the central bank's inspectors expressed surprise at estimates provided by the Deloitte consultancy that were used as a base by European authorities to fix the sale at one euro.