Dutch shareholders ask regulator to probe Fortis

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch shareholder group VEB has asked the Dutch market regulator AFM to urgently investigate whether Fortis FOR.BRFOR.AS misled shareholders and failed to inform them in a timely manner of looming solvency concerns.

A general view of the Fortis Bank headquarters in Utrecht in this April 27, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Michael Kooren/Files

Anger at the high price paid by Fortis for the Dutch activities of ABN AMRO last year and at the related financing measures which have pummelled Fortis shares cost chief executive Jean-Paul Votron his job on Friday.

In a statement on Sunday the VEB said Fortis’s 8 billion euro (6.4 billion pound) emergency solvency package announced at the end of June took the market and investors completely by surprise, particularly since Fortis had always maintained there was nothing wrong.

At the end of April, the VEB said, Votron had told the VEB’s magazine in an interview “the balance sheet is absolutely in order”.

The VEB added: “It is unlikely that the board of directors did not know earlier that solvency needed to be improved. The spreading of information which the board of directors knew or could reasonably guess would give a misleading signal, amounts to a breach of supervisory laws.”

The VEB said it wanted the AFM to investigate and publish its conclusions by August 4. It has also pushed for the departure of board chairman Maurice Lippens.

Fortis, Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc RBS.L and Spain's Santander SAN.MC paid 70 billion euros ($110.4 billion) for ABN just as the credit crunch hit revenues and valuations across the industry.

Last month’s emergency solvency measures pushed Fortis shares down 19 percent on the day they were announced. They are now worth about a third of their value when Fortis launched its joint bid for ABN last year.

The enlarged Fortis is now worth less than the 24 billion euros it paid for its parts of ABN.

The credit crisis has led to more than $400 billion in writedowns and cost the chief executives of Merrill Lynch and Citigroup and the chairman of UBS their jobs, and seen stricken Bear Stearns swallowed by rival JPMorgan Chase.


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