NETHERLANDS - A court in Rotterdam decided late last week there are "founded reasons" to hear with immediate effect from the former management of the harbour workers' pension fund (PVH) if it can use pensioner money to buy art.

The association for the pensioners of the transport and harbour companies (BPVH) went to court last September to find out why the assets of harbour workers' pension fund (PVH), managed by Optas, were not used for pensions but rather for a planned art subsidy.

In the Dutch legal system, such an explanation can only be obtained via a so-called provisional hearing, which was granted by a judge last week on Thursday evening.

The Optas foundation's management will now have to explain whether or not its legal  statutes were intended to have a binding goal for the fund's assets, as evidence reveals the statutes have been changed over recent decades.

In the original statues of the old, industry-wide pension fund PVH, it was agreed all revenues of the pension fund will have to be paid to (former) harbour workers or their partners, which according to the BPVH has not happened.

In the mid-1990s, unions and employers agreed PVH fund should be returned to the individual companies, after a period in which pension contributions had been used to fund early retirement.

This apparently happened to such an extent, it was decided an independent party would be put in charge of the fund, however some financial 'irregularities' appeared, after which PVH was dissolved, and many companies' pension plans fell into an insurance scheme, while the surplus ended up in a 'no-man's land'.

According to information obtained by IPE, the original statues were changed when the new, restructured Optas foundations emerged in 1996, so he management of Optas - which was independent and did not have any employers or employees - could then spend the assets in whichever way they deemed right.

In March, Aegon announced it had reached agreement to acquire its fellow-life insurer and group pension specialist Optas in a €1.3bn transaction; soon after Dutch media reported assets from the harbour workers' pension fund, managed by Optas, would be used for an art subsidy.

According to Dutch politician Pieter Omtzigt, who has lobbied minister of social affairs Piet Hein Donner to investigate the Optas case, the ruling is good news for the BVPH and the former harbour workers it represents.

"It is the first step, after this it has to be evaluated if there really is a legal case," he added.

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