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1 Million Investors Lose It All: Spain

By JORGE SAINZ

LA VALL D'UIXO, Spain (AP) -- When Felix Valls followed his bank manager's advice and invested his entire savings in the bank's stocks, he did it without thinking.

It was a simple question of loyalty.

After all, how could he doubt the local bank that opened an account for him just after he was born in 1935 with a gift of 5 pesetas, a small fortune in those days, as a sign of respect to his parents, who were life-long customers? Now the 77-year-old Valls feels betrayed as he finds himself locked out of his hard-earned money.

"I don't understand what's going on," he said. "The only thing I want is for them to return what is mine."

His plight is shared by thousands of his fellow townspeople and nearly a million across Spain: Lured by the family-like ties nurtured between bankers and customers, they poured their life's savings into higher-yielding financial instruments recommended by the people managing their money. When boom turned to catastrophic bust, they found the stock they had acquired had become all but worthless.

Once-lifelong friendships have turned to enmity, as victims cry treachery. In some towns, angry customers have burst into bank branches with shotguns and yelled death threats. Despair has set in as many of the victims are elderly people who were depending on the money to fund their last years.

In towns like La Vall D'Uixo, bank employees and customers would often have close relationships, sometimes going out to have coffee and other times finding themselves sitting together at school plays.

But those times are over.

Jose Romero has spent nearly four decades working at Bancaja, a regional savings bank that is now part of Spanish banking giant Bankia. He said relationships with clients have recently become very tense and sometimes have hovered on the verge of violence.

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