Mario Draghi, Andrea Orcel and Banca Mps: sometimes they come back. For a few days, Montepaschi has once again been at the center of the political-economic scene: after months of unconfirmed rumors, Unicredit has in fact come out of the closet and announced its intention to acquire – under decisive conditions – the Sienese bank of which the State is a shareholder. 64% through the Ministry of Economy. The center-right raised the issue of conflict of interest, highlighting how the president of Unicredit, Pier Carlo Padoan, is a former minister of the economy and a former deputy of the Democratic Party, elected in Siena, a seat now vacant for which the secretary is a candidate dem Enrico Letta. Almost no one, on the other hand, has remarked on another crucial intertwining in this whole story: that which concerns, in fact, the President of the Council Draghi and the CEO of Unicredit Orcel.
Let’s rewind the tape and go to 2007, a decisive year (in a negative sense) for Mps. In November, the Sienese bank, led by the president Giuseppe Mussari at the time, announced the agreement with the Spaniards of Banco Santander for the acquisition of Banca Antonveneta for 9 billion euros (plus 7 billion euros of debt). That operation will mark the beginning of the end for Mps. Just a month earlier, in fact, Santander had bought Antonveneta from the Dutch Abn Amro for a much lower amount: 6.6 billion euros.
The problems come to the surface in 2012, when it is discovered the very risky derivative contracts Santorini and Alexandria signed by the management of Siena to cover the budget gaps caused by the disastrous acquisition of Antonveneta. In November 2019, Mussari was convicted along with other top executives of the bank for false accounting and stock manipulation.
What do Draghi and Orcel have to do with all this? Well, in 2007 Draghi was governor of the Bank of Italy and formally authorized the infamous MPS-Antonveneta operation despite the obvious disproportion in price.
“The operation was carried out in the enthusiasm of the big media, the financial community and the political and government authorities”, he recalled in a recent interview on TPI the economist Emilia Brancaccio, who in 2007 was on the board of directors of a bank of the MPS group (Banca Toscana) and was among the few to oppose the acquisition of Antonveneta. “Draghi was among those in favor. The whole system was pervaded by a visceral liberalism ”.
Even an experienced banker like Cesare Geronzi underlined Draghi’s guilty blindness at that decisive juncture: “He shouldn’t have allowed Mps to combine those messes”, he declared some time ago in an interview with Panorama.
And Orcel? The current CEO of Unicredit in 2007 was at the helm of the global markets & investment banking division in the London office of the investment bank Merrill Lynch. And he was the director of the Antonveneta sales operations first in Santander (at 6.6 billion euros) and then (just a month later, at 9 billion) at Mps.
Orcel was the mediator of the negotiation between Mussari and the Spaniard Emilio Botin, founder and great head of Santander, who needed liquidity to finance the purchase of Abn Amro together with Royal Bank Scotland and Fortis.
Fourteen years later, the Roman banker – also known as “the Ronaldo of finance” – is ready, at the helm of Unicredit, to get his hands on MPS, which in the meantime has never recovered from the crack. But Orcel wants guarantees: for starters, no non-performing loans and no legal risks. In short, Unicredit will only have to earn.
Orcel will have to negotiate with the Ministry of the Treasury, shareholder of the Sienese bank, but he will certainly also interface with Draghi, who today sits in Palazzo Chigi and who will not be able to refrain from having his say on the dossier. The conditions that will govern the agreement between the State and Unicredit, from the price of the sale to the redundancies of personnel, are discussed. Mario, Andrea and Mps: sometimes they come back.