Spanish court to question Santander, BNP bankers in HSBC tax probe

Angus Berwick and Jesús Aguado

(Adds Santander statement)

MADRID, May 3 (Reuters) - Spain's High Court is to question

seven current and former Banco Santander bankers,

including a current non-executive board member, as part of a

probe triggered by leaks of tax information from HSBC's

Swiss private bank.

The court said in a ruling published on Wednesday it had

decided to summon the bankers after analysing documents provided

by Santander and French bank BNP Paribas over the past

year, as well as reports from Bank of Spain inspectors.

These documents and reports revealed funds were moved

between Santander, BNP and HSBC, hidden from tax authorities,

which could constitute money laundering, Judge Jose de la Mata

said in the ruling on Wednesday.

Three current and former bankers from BNP Paribas's

Spanish unit would also be summoned to the hearings

which are set to begin on June 12, he added.

Santander, the euro zone's largest bank by market value,

said in a statement it had complied with the law at all time and

had actively cooperated with the court by providing all the

documentation and information requested.

Representatives for BNP Paribas Spain declined to comment,

while the bankers named could not immediately be reached.

The Spanish investigation is one of many by national tax

authorities as a result of the leak in 2008 of client data

belonging to HSBC's private bank by Herve Falciani, a former IT

employee at the bank. France, Austria, Belgium and Argentina

have launched their own investigations.

Falciani, a French citizen, has said he is a whistleblower

trying to help governments track down citizens who used Swiss

accounts to evade tax. In 2015 a Swiss court sentenced him, in

his absence, to five years in prison for aggravated industrial

espionage.

The High Court said it will question Ignacio Benjumea Cabeza

de Vaca, former head of Santander's analysis and resolution

committee and a current non-executive board member; Jose Manuel

Araluce Larraz, former head of compliance; and five other

current and former senior compliance officials at the Spanish

bank.

Reuters was not immediately able to contact Benjumea Cabeza

de Vaca, while Araluce Larraz did not reply to a message via

LinkedIn.

The court also said it will question Jose Andres Fernandez

Espejel, former head of compliance at BNP Paribas Spain, and two

other senior compliance officials. Fernandez Espejel did not

reply to a Linkedin message sent by Reuters.

Under the Spanish legal system people can be named as formal

suspects until a more detailed investigation is carried out.

Between 2005 and 2008, HSBC's Swiss private bank channelled

almost 74 million euros ($81 million) through Santander to pay

clients at other banks, according to the court ruling. The

transfers had stopped by 2010, after the banks began to request

identification from people making and receiving transfers.

($1 = 0.9164 euros)

(Editing by Julien Toyer, Alexander Smith and David Evans)