Banco Santander Wants to Compensate Madoff VictimsJan 28, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP
Banco Santander, one of the financial institutions hardest hit by the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme scandal, has offered restitution to clients whose money it invested with the alleged swindler. According to Bloomberg.com, the Spanish bank said yesterday that it would issue 1.38 billion euros ($1.82 billion) to its individual private banking clients whose money was invested with Madoff. Apparently, Banco Santander is trying to head off lawsuits filed by angry clients who lost money because of the bank's Madoff connection.
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 the highest of any bank linked to Madoff’s investment 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. Yet just weeks before Bernard Madoff’s alleged Ponzi scheme collapsed, managers at Banco Santander’s Optimal hedge fund investment arm were praising Madoff’s supposedly “impeccable” market timing.
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.
The Madoff scandal has also raised serious questions about the method Banco Santander to recruit investors for the Optimal fund. While the funds were meant for wealthy private banking clients, Santander branch managers reportedly 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 were often of modest means. They included a former street vendor who was convinced to invest more than $400,000 in lottery winnings in the Optimal fund. That client had to return to street vending after Santander lost his winnings.
According to Bloomberg.com, Santander has proposed issuing preferred shares with an annual payout of 2 percent to compensate private banking clients for their Madoff losses. The bank would have the option to buy back the securities after 10 years. Another report from Reuters said the compensation would only cover clients' initial investments, and not apparently false gains Madoff had reported. Institutional investors, which Santander said should have been aware of the risks involved, will not be eligible for the compensation program.
Banco Santander's clients still have to approve the package. But if they do, it is believed that other institutions and firms who invested client funds with Madoff would be under pressure to offer similar compensation.