As BBVA Executive Chairman Carlos Torres seeks to ease the concerns of retail investors, the company official said it could take months to complete an inquiry into alleged spying involving the bank. Torres also said the bank would cooperate with judicial officials, while he thanked Francisco Gonzalez for stepping aside from his role as honorary chairman as auditor PwC conducts an internal probe, Reuters reported.
“It is in our interest to move forward as quickly as possible, but given the scope, PwC has told us that several months of work will be required before we see the first results,” Torres said.
The matter involves Jose Manuel Villarejo, who was reportedly hired by the bank to spy on executives of a possible buyer as well as government officials in 2004, at which time Gonzalez was executive chairman of the Spanish bank. BBVA reportedly acknowledged its hiring of the security firm Grupo Cenyt, which was owned by Villarejo, for different services, but did not find any evidence of spying.
The news comes as European Union lawmakers released a report in February recommending that the bloc have a dedicated police unit for investigating financial and tax crimes, in addition to a watchdog organization to combat money laundering. The report, which came after a year-long investigation by a European Union Parliament committee, also noted that seven countries in the union were found to be tax havens.
The report is a response to alleged finance-related crimes and high-profile money laundering cases in the region. It also noted that many EU countries demonstrated a “lack of political will to tackle tax avoidance and financial crime,” as well as that they have been dragging their feet when it comes to closing opportunities for circumventing tax rules.