Rodrigo Antunes/ Lusa

Novo Banco president quits ‘two years early’

Sources deny decision linked to ‘investigations’ underway

Novo Banco’s executive president António Ramalho is quitting two years earlier than anticipated.

Reports today suggest he will remain in place long enough to present the bank’s first semester results, leaving sometime in August.

According to SIC, the move will have been prompted by the reaction of Novo Banco’s majority shareholders US equity fund Lone Star to the news that Mr Ramalho’s suitability to continue in his role is being assessed by the European Central Bank (ECB) following the release of “compromising conversations” between himself and Benfica boss Luís Filipe Vieira, a man who owes Novo Banco millions.

But a source from within the bank has told the news channel this is not the case at all. Mr Ramalho is leaving under his own volition.

A statement put out by the bank, signed off by Mr Ramalho, stresses the “privilege” it has been to lead “a vast team in a unique and unrepeatable process, in an adverse situation” and when “few believed” he would have success.

The way Mr Ramalho sees it, his tenure has “preserved a systemic bank, thousands of jobs and a countless number of companies, and thus the normal functioning of the Portuguese economy”.

Many would, and no doubt will, give very different slants on Mr Ramalho’s almost six-year tenure in which the Resolution Fund (backed by the State) has had to pay out billions to clear the legacy of debts inherited from Banco Espírito Santo to put it on what he calls “a path of sustainable profitability”.

Compromising conversations

In the words of SIC television news today, these follow the lines of the above linked story to our own text of last January: the telephone taps in which Mr Ramalho was clearly heard talking about ‘preparing’ Mr Vieira for his grilling by the parliamentary commission into the many questions surrounding his relationship with Novo Banco (and what it has cost the country’s beleaguered taxpayers).

SIC refers to Mr Ramalho substituting Vítor Fernandes with another director whose discourse would be (so) boring that no-one “will understand what he is saying…”

That director, Rui Fontes, is ‘long gone’: he was in charge of risk at BES between 2012 and 2014, “a critical period for the bank”, says SIC… in that the bank ‘imploded’ in August of 2014, forcing regulators to separate the ‘good’ from the ‘bad’. 

Novo Banco was labelled ‘the good bank’ – and went on to appear anything but for several years.

Luís Filipe Vieira has elevated debts with Novo Banco and various credits were restructured and sold in conditions which raised doubts among MPs in the parliamentary commission of inquiry”, SIC continues.

The fact that António Ramalho appeared to be telling Mr Vieira that he needed to be ‘prepared’ before his sessions with the parliamentary commission, seems – in the eyes of tax inspector Paulo Silva – to be a case of “attempting to concentrate positions between people” whose “interventions” had been financially damaging for Novo Banco.

But Mr Ramalho clearly refutes this line of thought, stressing in the statement today that this is actually “the right moment to announce his desire to leave his job”… even though he is actually not leaving until August.

[email protected]