BRUSSELS, July 29 Financial group Fortis, which was carved up in 2008 and superseded by Belgian insurer Ageas , misled shareholders in the run-up to its bailout and should pay them compensation, a Dutch court said on Tuesday.
Fortis, once one of Europe's largest banks, almost collapsed after paying a top-of-the-market 24 billion euros ($32 billion) for the Dutch operations of ABN AMRO just as the credit crunch struck in 2007.
The Dutch court said Fortis misled shareholders by saying, after a first rescue package in September 2008, that its position was "stronger than ever".
"Hereby Fortis, which knew the information to be incorrect, gave a misleading signal to the market and put investors on a wrong footing," the Amsterdam-based court of appeal said in its ruling.
The court did not say how much Fortis should pay.
The court added that the Dutch government had communicated appropriately to the public at the time as it was trying to prevent a run on the bank.
Fortis was finally split up in October 2008, a week after an 11.2 billion euro capital injection failed to calm markets. The Dutch nationalised Fortis's activities there, while BNP Paribas bought a majority in Fortis's banking operations in Belgium.
Ageas, the legal successor to Fortis, said it was studying the verdict and had no immediate comment.
Its shares were suspended on Euronext Brussels pending the court ruling.
(Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; editing by Philip Blenkinsop and David Evans)