Court hearing begins in Orcel CEO job offer dispute with Santander

MADRID, May 19 (Reuters) - A hearing pitting Andrea Orcel against Santander over the withdrawal of an offer to make him chief executive kicked off on Wednesday with the Spanish bank’s chairman Ana Botin and the Italian banker present at the Madrid court.

One most public rows over a top banking job has ended up in court more than two years after Santander suddenly dropped plans to make Orcel its CEO after a disagreement over his pay package.

The hearing is taking place in a conference hall instead of a traditional court room due to COVID-19 protocols and because of the intense media interest in the case.

Sources close to the matter and a court document seen by Reuters on Tuesday showed that Orcel had cut his initial claim against Santander by tens of millions of euros.

The source also said Orcel had dropped the part of his legal claim that would require the Spanish bank to hire him, because he has since been appointed CEO of Italy’s UniCredit.

Orcel, who had not been called to testify, had been seeking as much as 112 million euros for breach of contract and the damage to his career from the last minute U-turn.

The hearing will revolve around whether a four-page offer letter was a binding job contract or a non-binding initial offer as argued by Santander. It is expected to be concluded in a day, but a verdict could take weeks or months.

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.

But 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 the compensation package from his previous employer, Swiss bank UBS. (Reporting by Emma Pinedo and Jesús Aguado; Editing by Alexander Smith)