(Adds company statement, share reaction)
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was carved up in 2008 and superseded by Belgian insurer Ageas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
Shares of the group fell as much as 4.6 percent in late
Tuesday trading after the ruling was published. Its shares had
been suspended earlier pending the ruling.
The court did not say how much Fortis should pay.
Ageas still had three months to appeal against the Dutch
ruling, a spokeswoman said. The group so far had not set aside
any funds to compensate shareholders, because the amount that
would be needed was very hard to quantify, she added.
A separate procedure will now have to be started to
determine how much compensation individual shareholders can
receive, Adriaan de Gier, the lawyer for the shareholders, said.
He added the case could last about two years.
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 ($15.03 billion) 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
disappointed with the verdict and was considering its further
(1 US dollar = 0.7453 euro)
(Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; editing by Louise Heavens)