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Banco Santander Optimal Fund Clients Hit Hard by Madoff Fraud

Jan 22, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

Banco Santander SA, one of the largest banks in Spain, has been caught up in the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme scandal.  And now, Spanish authorities want to know what officials at Banco Santander knew about Madoff's alleged fraud, and when they knew it.  

Numerous individuals, institutions and hedge funds lost money because of Madoff's alleged scheme.  But according to the Associated Press, losses for Banco Santander's clients were among th highest of any bank linked to Madoff's invesment advisory business.  Those clients were invested in the Optimal Strategic US Equity Fund, which is managed by a unit of Banco Santander. That fund has lost more than  $3.1 billion as a result of investing with Madoff, the Associated Press said.

Shortly after the U.S. FBI arrested Madoff for securities fraud last December, Spain's anticorruption prosecutor began investigating the relationship between Banco Santander and the accused swindler.  The  prosecutor wants to know whether managers of the Optimal Strategic US Equity Fund  knew of problems at Madoff's operations when they marketed the vehicle to investors.  A key question is why Santander Chairman Emilio Botín sent one of his chief lieutenants to see  Madoff in New York just weeks before the alleged Ponzi scheme collapsed.

They are also looking at the timing of the resignation of Manuel Echeverría, who The Wall Street Journal said presided over the Optimal fund while it built its relationship with Madoff. He left the bank on June 30, 2008 after 19 years there. Five colleagues also quit at the same time.

Others have questioned the methods Banco Santander used to recruit investors for the Optimal fund, and some lawyers representing Santander clients claim the bank made a practice of steering unqualified investors to Optimal.

According to a report on Bloomberg.com, Santander branch managers channeled customers with money from property sales or inheritances to private banking salespeople, who convinced them to sink their money into the Optimal Strategic US Equity Fund.  These investors reportedly included a retired school teacher who put $388,000 - half her savings - in the fund.  In another case,  a street vendor was convinced to invest more than $400,000 in lottery winnings in the fund.  That client had to return to street vending after Santander lost his winnings.

So far, Banco Santander has maintained that because the Optimal funds losses were the result of fraud, it will not be compensating its clients.


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