72% vote 'yes' for sale of Fortis Bank to BNP Paribas

29th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

Fortis shareholders vote today and on Wednesday regarding the selling of the banking activities to France's BNP Paribas.

This came more than six months after the Belgian government took over Fortis to prevent its collapse.

More than 3,000 shareholders gathered at Flanders Expo in Ghent. The meeting started with some incidents and was suspended temporarily.  Fortis Holding shareholders booed, threw coins and shouted for the resignation of the company's executives ahead of the key vote on Tuesday aiming to legitimize the government rescue and sale of Belgium's largest bank.

The messy government rescue deal and fire sale of Fortis took place last October.

Last week the Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy warned that a "No" from shareholders would not enable them to regain control over the bank.

Shareholders now own almost worthless stakes in Fortis Holding, which won back control over most of Fortis' Belgian insurance business under a sweetened deal the government offered them in March. They also own a tiny global insurer and a stake of a bad bank carrying Fortis' hard-to-value "toxic" assets.

The vote looked set to be very close. Fortis Holding's largest shareholder, China's Ping An, said Sunday that it would vote against the sale because the new deal destroyed shareholder value. It called for other "credible and viable" solutions for the business' future.

The law firm of Mischael Modrikamen -- which represents 2,400 shareholders -- was also calling for a "No" vote and insisted that Fortis' banking arm could continue as an independent business.

Last year the Dutch government took over Fortis' banking activities in the Netherlands, while the Belgian part of Fortis Bank was nationalised pending its sale to the French bank BNP Paribas.

The Belgian government had reached a sales deal with BNP Paribas last October. That deal was made conditional on shareholder approval after a Belgian court ruled in December that the government was wrong to agree the deal without first consulting the shareholders for a vote.

The Brussels Court of Appeals suspended the sale of Fortis to BNP Paribas pending a general shareholders' meeting on February 11. In this meeting the sale was rejected and a deal renegotiated for approval this week.


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