BBVA honorary chair Gonzalez quits for now to limit spy probe impact

March 14, 2019

MADRID (Reuters) – Former BBVA head Francisco Gonzalez said on Thursday he would temporarily step down as honorary chairman to avoid any harm to the Spanish bank’s reputation during an inquiry into alleged spying.

Gonzalez announced his decision in a letter to the board a day ahead of BBVA’s annual shareholders meeting. He also resigned temporarily as honorary head of the bank’s foundation.

“In order to avoid the use of my person to harm the entity, I have decided to temporarily leave my positions in the foundation and the bank while investigations are ongoing”, Gonzalez said in the letter, which was seen by Reuters.

The inquiry is related to contracts with a jailed ex-police chief, Jose Manuel Villarejo, whom news reports said the bank hired to spy on top executives of a potential buyer in 2004 when Gonzalez was BBVA’s executive chairman.

The bank has officially acknowledged that it hired Grupo Cenyt, a security firm owned by Villarejo who was arrested in 2017 as part of a separate investigation and remains in jail.

Carlos Torres, who replaced Gonzalez as executive chairman in January, has said that Cenyt provided various services to BBVA, but that the bank had found no evidence of spying.

In his letter, Gonzalez said he was very proud of what he had achieved at BBVA, adding that he had ordered the internal investigation into its relationship with Villarejo in June 2018.

(Reporting by Jesús Aguado; editing by Ingrid Melander and Alexander Smith)

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