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Ghosts from the past still haunt Botín

As Euromoney goes to press, Santander is set to take over the UK's Abbey National, propelling the Spanish bank into the frontline of European retail banking. But the past won't go away for Santander chairman Emilio Botín. The Spanish courts have ruled that he has serious charges to answer. At the same time minority shareholders who harangue him at Santander's AGM are planning to put their case to Abbey investors in London. Ben Sills reports from Madrid.

IF GRUPO SANTANDER'S takeover of the UK's Abbey National is finalized later this month then Emilio Botín, the Spanish bank's chairman will become arguably the most powerful retail banker in Europe. The combined organization should be among the continent's top five banks by market capitalization and, with substantial businesses in the UK, Germany and Portugal as well as in its home market, it will have a pan-European presence to match any of its bigger rivals. For Botín, this is the big one. This is the deal that completes his journey from the obscurity of provincial Spain to the heart of the global financial system and a significant position in one of the world's most important banking markets.

If it goes through, Botín joins the major league. He will leave behind for good the traditional world of Spanish finance that he has devoted so much of his career to breaking up and breaking away from. He'll already be halfway to fulfilling the bold ambitions expressed by the bank's sprawling futuristic headquarters on the outskirts of Madrid. And next time he dines with his old friend Sir George Mathewson, chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland, they will meet, for the first time, as equals.

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