NETHERLANDS - Proceeds of the sale of insurer Optas Group to Aegon, worth €1.3bn are owned by the Optas Foundation, and not by the pension fund for harbour workers BPVH, officials at the foundation have insisted.

The Optas Foundation has come under fire in recent months and sparked a wider political and legal discussion about the ownership of assets related to pension funds, after it was discovered proceeds of the sale of the company and associated pension fund are being invested in art.

Optas Foundation officials have, until now, consistently declined to talk to the media and noted in a statement it is unable to openly discuss the matter as a result of scheduled court hearing with representatives of employers and employees, concerning the use of assets following the sale.

That said, officials comment in the statement: "We will explain that the takeover of Optas Group has taken place in a correct way with the approval of all players involved."

In relation to the contentious issue of purchasing art, Optas also said: "Our articles of association allow the foundation assets to be used for cultural and idealistic projects of general social interest, in connection with the foundations historic links with Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

"However, we are not due at all to allocate the funds," it added, while still declining to specify any possible destination, nor any sums involved.

According to the foundation, employers and employees of the BPVH have consciously never taken up a seat on the board of the new company, nor have they become shareholders, since the pension fund was transformed into insurer Optas Pensioenen 10 years ago.

The €1.3bn quoted is the proceeds of the sale of shares of the holding company and its three subsidiaries, one of which was insurer Optas Pensioenen. So the assets involved are therefore not the pension fund's assets, the foundation continued.

"The actual pension claims by the harbour workers have been absolutely secured, thanks to the large financial buffers kept by Optas Pensioenen, which is now part of Aegon" officials argued.

Representatives of three Dutch pension funds professional organisations called for new legislation earlier this week, to prevent pension assets from draining away in the event of mergers, transformation of pension providers or liquidation.

They set out their position on the legal ownership of pension assets in a joint paper, following Optas' takeover by Aegon. In the organizations' opinion, the legal ownership of pension assets - raised with contributions from employers and workers - is with the pension fund. (See earlier IPE story: Pension funds are "legal owners of pension assets"

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