November 14, 2019 / 2:47 PM / a month ago

Spain's former BBVA chairman 'FG' placed under investigation: source

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain’s High Court on Thursday placed the former chairman of BBVA (BBVA.MC), Francisco Gonzalez, under investigation as part of a probe into an alleged spying case, a source with knowledge of the matter said.

FILE PHOTO: Francisco Gonzalez, chairman of Spain's BBVA, delivers a speech during the bank's 2014 results presentation in Madrid February 4, 2015. REUTERS/Andrea Comas/File Photo

The court’s decision follows a request by the anti-corruption prosecutor and will see Gonzalez investigated on charges of bribery and disclosure of secrets in connection with BBVA’s alleged dealings with former police chief Jose Manuel Villarejo, the source said.

News websites El Confidencial and Moncloa.com reported in January that the bank had hired Villarejo to spy on executives of a potential buyer, construction company Sacyr, when Gonzalez was BBVA’s executive chairman.

Gonzalez has been summoned to testify before the court on November 18, the source said, confirming an earlier report by Spanish broadcaster La Sexta.

BBVA, which is also being formally investigated in the case and has opened an internal probe into the allegations, declined to comment.

The High Court and a spokesman for Gonzalez also declined to comment.

On Wednesday, Gonzalez said in a statement that he was “willing to cooperate with the authorities” on the matter.

BBVA, which has so far said it has not found any evidence of spying, is also alleged to have hired Villarejo to keep eyes on leading politicians on behalf of the bank from 2004.

Villarejo was arrested in 2017 as part of a separate investigation and is in prison pending trial over allegations of money laundering and bribing public officials.

While allegations over work carried out by Villarejo have roiled Spain’s corporate sector in recent months, BBVA has said the case has had no impact on its business. In July, however, the bank acknowledged that the allegations had damaged its reputation.

Gonzalez, who is known in Spanish business circles by his initials “FG”, was replaced by Carlos Torres as BBVA’s executive chairman in January.

In March he temporarily stepped down as honorary chairman to avoid any harm to the bank’s reputation during the inquiry.

Earlier in July, investigating judge Manuel García-Castellon expanded his investigation to eight former or current BBVA employees. None belong to the bank’s current board.

Reporting by Jesús Aguado; editing by Ashifa Kassam and Alexandra Hudson

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