Dutch court backs record 1.3 bn euro Ageas deal over Fortis

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A Dutch court Friday ended a long-running saga over the 2008 dismantling of the Fortis bank insurance group, approving a record 1.3 billion euros ($1.5 billion) settlement deal for out-of-pocket shareholders.

The Amsterdam appeals court ruled that the deal, initially brokered in March 2016 between the Belgian insurer Ageas and lawyers representing the shareholders, was "binding."

Drawing the curtain on a seven-year legal battle, it overturned an earlier court decision in June 2017, which had ruled the decision was "non-binding".

"The settlement is intended for anyone who was a shareholder of the then Belgian/Dutch Fortis in the period from 28 February 2007 up to and including 14 October 2008," the Amsterdam court said in its final ruling in the case.

"A total of over 1.3 billion euros is available for these shareholders," it added.

It was not immediately clear how many shareholders could be eligible, but earlier court filings said it was thought to be at least 150,000 to 200,000 people.

The Belgian-Dutch Fortis group was dismantled and partly nationalised in October 2008 at the height of the global financial crisis.

Its Dutch banking and insurance assets were nationalised by the Netherlands for 16.8 billion euros, while its Belgian banking arm was taken over by French giant BNP Paribas.

The Belgian insurance section, Fortis Holding, was then renamed Ageas in 2010.

Shareholders claimed they lost millions of euros because the bank's management had lied to the markets insisting Fortis was financially healthy in 2008 when in fact it was on the brink of collapse.

The shareholders afterwards launched a number of lawsuits in Belgium and the Netherlands to recover their losses.

"We're very pleased with the court's decision. Finally we can bring this part of the Fortis legacy to a close in the interest of all former Fortis shareholders as well as Ageas and its stakeholders," said Ageas chief executive Bart De Smet.

Lawyers for one group of shareholders described it as the "largest securities settlement ever reached in Europe," resolving four separate cases brought against Ageas.

The way is now clear for compensation payments to begin.

Jay Eisenhofer, managing director of the US law firm Grant & Eisenhofer, said Ageas "is a different company now".

"We are proud to have played a lead role in the largest record investor recovery in Europe to date," he added.


© 2018 AFP

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