Bank of Santander suspended payments to 43,200 clients of its largest real estate fund
This Investment Fund was sold among spanish customers as a conservative one and devoted to buy buildings and offices for renting. Redemptions are suspended since Feb 2009.
This fund, named Santander Real State Banif Fund (Fondo Santander Banif Inmobiliario in Spanish), was the largest and the oldest in its category in Spain with a capital amount of EUR3,725 million (45% market share). Therefore, most of the unitholders are seniors, some of them already retired.
In Oct 2008, a handful of large unitholders (with presumably privileged business information) sold their holdings (16% of the assets) at their maximum value. In order to cover the cost, Bank of Santander borrowed EUR170 million at market price to be paid by the Fund itself. At the same time, Santander investment advisors persuaded small savers to desist from selling their shares, saying that investment was secure because it was based mainly on rents, so it did not have relation with the property market situation.
In December 2008, the fund created panic among shareholders when it announced a special valuation. In addition, Santander branches then also advised their small clients to seek refund. The resulting withdrawal requests represented 80% of the assets, exceeding the 10% which could by law permit to freeze the fund. Using this rule, which it ignored a few months before, Santander obtained from the CNMV (the Spanish Security and Exchange Commission) authorisation to suspend redemptions for a two year period.
In February 2009 the bank sold one of its finest buildings (in the Castellana, Madrid) to an alleged acquaintance of the president of Banesto, daughter of Santander president, at a price 28 % below the value it had in December.
In May 2009, the shopping center Plenilunio was sold to the company Orion Columbia , which had been created 3 months before with EUR3010 capital. The price was 16% below the new assesment value.
Another famous building, the edificio España, which had been acquired in 2005 but never rented, is still for sale. Santander ordered refurbishment to Sacyr-Vallehermoso, one of its big debtors. This building brought estimated EUR48 million fees to Santander, but never generated rents for unitholders.
From Dec 2008 to Dec 2010, the fund has lost 20% of its value, but Santander's alleged yearly profit is more than 8 billion EUR, which allows it to buy more and more banks (Abbey, A&L, RBS, ...)
In Dec 2010, Santander announced it will lift redemption freeze in Feb 2011 for purely commercial reasons. Nevertheless, management fees remain until there, including for holders which asked 2 years ago for redemption.
In Oct 2009, the trial court number 39 of Madrid accepted a civil lawsuit based on evidence of fraud, misappropriation and corporate crime against the main managers of Santander Real State Banif Fund.
The spanish media has almost totally suppressed this story as Emilio Botin, the Chairman of Santander has strong links with spanish government and the media. One of Spain's leading media companies is heavily indebted to Santander
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