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EXCLUSIVE-Orcel cuts Santander claim to more than $55 mln in job offer case -source

* Orcel drops contract fulfilment claim against Santander

* Italian banker is not seeking out of court settlement

* Orcel planning to attend Wednesday court hearing in person

* Santander’s general secretary could be dropped as witness (Adds details on claim and witnesses)

MADRID, May 18 (Reuters) - Andrea Orcel has lowered his compensation claim against Santander over a rescinded offer to make him chief executive to slightly more than 45 million euros ($55 million), a source with knowledge of the matter said on Tuesday.

The Italian banker has dropped a part of his legal claim that would require the Spanish bank to hire him because he has since been appointed as CEO of Italy’s UniCredit, the source, who declined to be named as the person is not permitted to speak on behalf of Orcel, told Reuters.

Orcel, who quit as the top investment banker at Swiss bank UBS in 2018 to join Santander, was seeking as much as 112 million euros for breach of contract and the damage to his career from the Spanish bank’s last minute U-turn.

The legal rationale for the case, which centred on defending Orcel’s integrity and honour, was unchanged, the source said.

He is now claiming 17 million euros related to a bonus, around 20 million out of a 55 million compensation package that he was due to receive in future years from UBS and around two years’ fixed salary at Santander, estimated at around 11 million euros, according to the source.

Santander declined to comment. A spokesman for Orcel also declined to comment on the legal case, which revolves around whether a four-page offer letter was a binding job contract, or a non-binding initial offer, as Santander argues.

The Spanish court hearing, which is scheduled to take place on Wednesday, is expected to be wrapped up in a day but the outcome could come weeks or even months later.

BOTIN IN COURT

The two sides will face off in front of judge Javier Sanchez Beltran in a hearing, which was twice postponed, that is expected to include testimony from Santander Chairman Ana Botin.

Orcel, who has been out of a job for more than two years, will be attending the court hearing in person though he has not been called to testify, the source said.

Botin surprised the banking world when she offered Orcel, her go-to investment banker for advice on deal-making and strategy, the top job at Santander in September 2018.

It is less common for investment bankers to go directly to a top position in commercial banking and hiring a highly-paid dealmaker to run the largest bank in Spain, still recovering from recession and negotiating job cuts, proved contentious.

Santander changed its mind the following January, saying it could not meet Orcel’s pay demands, which centred on paying up to 35 million euros of a 55 million euro package he was due to receive in future years from his employer at the time, UBS.

In addition to Botin, Roberto di Bernardini, who was Santander’s head of human resources at the time, is also expected to testify at Orcel’s request.

Santander has only asked for its general secretary Jaime Perez Renovales, who signed the original job offer, to testify, but this could be dropped, two sources said.

One of parties had requested Renovales to be removed from the list because he should not be allowed under Spanish law to testify as a witness and be the bank’s legal representative.

A court spokesman said the judge would take a final decision on Renovales on Wednesday.

UBS Chairman Axel Weber and Mark Shelton, head of performance and rewards at UBS, will not testify due to health reasons, a Madrid court said.

UBS and UniCredit both declined to comment. ($1 = 0.8187 euros) (Reporting by Jesús Aguado; additional reporting by Emma Pinedo in Madrid, Valentina Za in Milan and Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi in Zurich; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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