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Report: BBVA honorary chair steps down temporarily amid wiretap probe

The honorary chairman of Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA has temporarily stepped down from his position amid an ongoing investigation into allegations that the bank spied on government officials and executives 15 years ago, Europa Press reported.

Francisco González, executive chairman of the bank for nearly 20 years until his retirement at the end of 2018 and a key figure in Spanish banking, has written to the bank's current executive chairman, Carlos Torres Vila, saying he had decided to step aside during the investigation "to avoid people using him as a way to harm the bank," according to the March 14 report.

BBVA, which holds its annual shareholder meeting on March 15, has been conducting an investigation into the allegations since June 2018. They became public in January after two Spanish websites reported that the lender had paid large sums of money in 2004 to a security company to spy on executives and government officials who favored a takeover of the bank. González is alleged to have overseen the wiretapping operations.

El País reported earlier that Carlos Arenillas, former vice president of Spain's stock market regulator, had filed a lawsuit against González as well as Julio Corrochano, BBVA's former chief of security, and José Manuel Villarejo, the head of the security firm allegedly hired by BBVA for alleged wiretapping.

Villarejo has been in pretrial custody since November 2017 over allegations of wiretaps of influential people in Spain.