Judge Manuel García-Castellón, instructor of the Villarejo case, has summoned the current president of BBVA, Carlos Torres, to testify as a witness in the investigation opened by the contracts that the financial entity sealed with retired commissioner José Manuel Villarejo, the epicenter of a macro-plot of police corruption. The magistrate thus responds to the initiative that the Prosecutor’s Office put on the table last July, and calls Torres for the first time to question him. “The need to know what happened internally at BBVA in the phase after June 2018, [cuando el banco abrió unas pesquisas internas]is of special importance in this procedure,” emphasizes the judge of the National Court, in a resolution signed this Monday.
García-Castellón has scheduled Torres’ statement for 10:00 on October 16. The head of BBVA took office in January 2019 and, since then, has rejected any link with the alleged irregularities surrounding the entity, chaired until then by Francisco González, who is accused. “Regarding myself, I can speak with complete clarity. There is no possibility that I can be responsible for these matters,” Torres said in 2020. Before, as soon as he landed in the position, he was “shocked” by the news that revealed the alleged espionage maneuvers promoted by the bank through de Villarejo during the stage prior to his arrival at the top – although, from 2015 to 2018, while the commissioner was paid, he was CEO of the company; and from 2008 to 2015, he held a management position.
Last July, the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office opened the door for Torres to testify as a witness in the case. The public ministry pointed to the “high degree of knowledge” that he could have had about what happened within the bank after the scandal broke out. As an example, the prosecution put two episodes on the table. First, he highlighted that Torres participated in 2018, along with other executives, in the meeting that promoted the internal investigation to analyze the relationship between BBVA and the Villarejo companies. And second, he stressed that, once at the top of the bank, the Board of Directors held on July 30, 2019 agreed that the new president and the director of Legal Services, María Jesús Arribas, would designate the person who should represent the bank. the company before the judge, after the National Court charged it as a legal entity only one day before.
“In relation to BBVA, it is especially relevant to know if the corporate control mechanisms worked, in order to determine the existence of an effective culture of regulatory compliance, in order to clarify its criminal responsibility,” said Judge García-Castellón this Monday, in the car where he summons the president of the bank to testify. In that writing, the judge emphasizes that Torres chairs the Corporate Assurance committee of the financial entity, a body “designated [como] responsible for the criminal liability of the legal entity.”
The judge’s move also comes after having tried to obtain the version of María Jesús Arribas, who refused to testify at the National Court. Summoned as a witness in July, the director of Legal Services decided not to answer the investigators’ questions, and she told the magistrate that she was covered by the duty of professional secrecy, as a practicing lawyer for the bank. “It was not possible to obtain a statement from Arribas, who was the person who reported to the committee.” [de Assurance Corporative] what was being done in the entity, […] It is necessary to call Torres as a witness, in order to be able to delimit the existence of a true culture of regulatory compliance in the entity that could exempt it from criminal liability,” the instructor writes in his resolution this Monday.
The BBVA defense and the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office have had a strong confrontation in the case for some time, with crossed accusations. The public ministry has attributed the delays in the judicial investigation to the bank for having provided “partial and biased information”, delivered “incomplete” emails and hindered “every attempt to collect evidence.” The National Court has placed under suspicion a whole series of contracts between the financial entity and Villarejo, which were developed between 2004 and 2017 and for which the retired police officer received 10.3 million euros.
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