11
Sep

botinEmilio Botin, head of top European bank Santander and a key character in Spain’s financial crisis drama, has died suddenly of a heart attack, aged 79, the company said Wednesday.

Botin was one of the most powerful men in Spain, where critics branded him a symbol of excesses in the banking system which sparked a ruinous property crash — although his own bank survived it.

He took over from his father as Santander’s executive chairman in 1986 and expanded it, fusing it over time with entities such as Britain’s Abbey National and others in Latin America.

Spain’s conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy paid tribute to Botin on Wednesday, calling his bank “a great ambassador for brand Spain”.

Botin’s sudden death, weeks before his 80th birthday on October 1, “was a surprise and a great blow”, Rajoy told reporters at parliament.

Business magazine Forbes estimated the fortune of Botin — whose surname happens to mean “loot” in Spanish — at 1.1 billion euros ($1.4 billion).

Leading the international expansion of his bank, named after its hometown in northern Spain, Botin would entertain foreign journalists by joking about his strong Spanish accent when he spoke English.

A patron of science and the arts, he enjoyed the smooth image of a neatly-groomed bald executive in his trademark red tie, known to his managers as “El Presidente”.

He kept a collection of art and groves of olive trees at Santander’s vast headquarters on the outskirts of Madrid and was a keen golfer and fan of Formula One racing.

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