BRUSSELS Nov 30 Two former chief executives of
Fortis have been charged in Belgium with misleading financial
markets before the group's collapse.
The Belgian-Dutch bank and insurance group was rescued and
carved up in 2008 at the height of the financial crisis.
Jean-Paul Votron and Filip Dierckx become the first
directors to face criminal charges in Belgium over banking
failures during the crisis, which also forced bailouts for
Franco-Belgian Dexia and Belgium's KBC.
The two were charged by investigating Judge Jeroen Burm but
no details on the charges have been released and it was not
clear when any court appearances might take place. Belgium's
judicial authorities declined comment.
BNP Paribas Fortis confirmed in an email on Friday that
Dierckx, its chief operating officer and CEO of Fortis when it
was rescued in September 2008, had been charged, adding that it
had full confidence in him.
Votron, Fortis CEO from Oct 2004 to July 2008, told Belgian
public broadcaster VRT late on Thursday he was not guilty.
"I feel I am not guilty due to one simple fact. I did my
work. A CEO works with a mandate, given by the board and on top
of that is a chairman, Mr Lippens," he said, referring to
Maurice Lippens, Fortis chairman from 1990 until the bailout.
"Fortis never manipulated the market. Fortis aimed, in a
very difficult situation in 2007 and 2008, to provide the best
possible communication at that moment," Votron said.
Fortis, once one of Europe's largest banks, came unstuck
after paying a top-of-the-market 24 billion euros ($31.2
billion) to buy the Dutch operations of ABN AMRO just before the
credit crunch struck.
Shareholder groups have complained Lippens and Votron
repeatedly assured markets that the Fortis's balance sheet was
strong and that it would not be changing its dividend policy.
At the end of June 2008, it scrapped its interim dividend
and sold new shares to prop itself up.
A Dutch court found Votron and former chief financial
officer, Gilbert Mittler, guilty in February of misleading
shareholders from May to June 2008, but cleared Lippens. Both
have appealed and the case is still pending.
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
The rump Fortis business, renamed Ageas, was left
as an insurance group centred on Belgium with life and non-life
elsewhere in Europe and Asia as well as a host of legacy issues
to clear up related to Fortis's collapse.
($1 = 0.7705 euros)
(Editing by David Holmes)