'Misled' investors file class action against Fortis
GLOBAL - A new foundation, Investor Claims against Fortis, has started legal proceedings in the Netherlands against the former bancassurer Fortis for "misleading investors", which it claims led to combined losses of €2bn.
The organisation argues that Fortis persisted in persuading investors to invest between May 2007 and October 2008 when the company was already on the ropes.
One of the foundation's claims is that Fortis failed to supply timely, accurate information about its exposure to sub-prime mortgages in the US.
The legal case - brought for the Utrecht court in the Netherlands - comes after the US high court decided that a class action by "foreign investors who have bought a stake in foreign companies on foreign stock markets" was inadmissible in a US court.
Within the EU, the legal climate in the Netherlands is ideal for shareholders wishing to reclaim damages from listed companies, according to Jay Eisenhofer, partner at law firm Grant & Eisenhofer.
Stuart Berman of law firm Barroway Topaz added: "This case offers a valuable framework for compensating duped investors outside the US."
Both law firms, as well as Alexander Reus, the foundation's director, have represented international shareholders against Shell for providing incorrect information about its oil reserves.
After Fortis became one of the three players that took over Dutch bank ABN Amro, it had to be rescued by the national governments of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.
Ultimately, the company was split up, with a large part of its assets being sold to third parties. The remainder of Fortis is now operating as Ageas.
Earlier, Fortis shareholders tried in vain to block the break-up of Fortis and hold its executive board accountable for the incurred losses.
The Amsterdam business court has not yet finalised a survey - conducted at the request of shareholders - into alleged mismanagement at Fortis.
The foundation said it had the support of more than 140 institutional investors, as well as 2,000 private investors worldwide.
A spokesman for the €231bn civil Dutch service scheme ABP - one of Fortis's largest stakeholders - said it had not yet decided whether to participate in the foundation.
"We are following the developments closely and looking into our own options for reclaiming our damages," he said.