LONDON (Reuters) - Fred Goodwin, the former Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS.L) chief executive, is set to become the first senior banker in Britain to be challenged in court over his role in the financial crisis.
A civil trial brought by thousands of RBS investors opens on Monday, alleging the banks’ shareholders were misled by Goodwin and other former executives over the bank’s financial health ahead of a 12 billion pound ($15.5 billion) cash call in 2008.
Goodwin was knighted for transforming a Scottish retail lender into a global banking force. But he fell from grace after the bank’s failure prompted a 45.8 billion pound government rescue, and was vilified by the British public for its collapse.
Barring a last-minute out-of-court settlement, he is due to make his first public appearance in eight years when he takes the stand at London’s High Court on June 8 and 9 in a 14-week trial. Court documents name Goodwin, other ex-RBS bosses and the bank as defendants in the case.
RBS, which remains more than 70 percent state-owned, denies any wrongdoing and said its former bosses did not act illegally. Goodwin’s lawyers declined to comment.
Questioned by a parliamentary committee in 2009, Goodwin offered a “profound and unqualified apology for all the distress that has been caused”, but said it was too simple to blame him for RBS’s collapse.
Investigations have blamed poor decision making and cultural deficiencies at the bank, but Goodwin and other executives have faced no criminal action or other sanctions.
The trial over how fund managers and thousands of employees and retail investors lost about 80 percent of their investments in the bank marks a pivotal point in one of the largest and most complex lawsuits in English legal history.
“I, and many thousands of investors, lost a significant sum of money through the mismanaged rights issue,” Trevor Hemmings, a multimillionaire businessman, told Reuters in an email.
“We want to and will see justice done with fair compensation. That is why I have financially backed the case - for everyone who lost out.”
The case has confounded some predictions. Lawyers warn it could take another seven years to legally establish any RBS liability and quantify any damages after judgments are appealed if the bank loses the case.
Shareholders representing 87 percent of the original 4 billion pound damages claim, including large fund managers, have baulked at the litigation costs and settled their case after RBS offered an 800 million pound settlement.
The remaining 8,000-odd claimants, including former and current RBS employees, represent a rump of a shareholder group which has been beset by internal wrangles, changing legal teams and questions over its funding and management structure.
Lawyers involved in the case say Goodwin’s costs will be covered by RBS’s directors and officers liability insurance, so he will not be out of pocket whatever happens in the case. And because it is a civil case, the defendants would not face jail.
But Chris Roebuck, a visiting professor at London’s Cass Business School, said some shareholders wanted to see Goodwin in court.
“Society wants to hold someone to account. They still resent the fact no senior bankers went to jail for what happened during the financial crisis,” he said.
Since leaving the bank, Goodwin has struggled to find work and spends time playing golf and repairing vintage cars, according to friends. Vigilantes smashed the windows of his Edinburgh house in 2009 and damaged his Mercedes.
But those hoping for a detailed account from Goodwin of the events of nine years ago might be disappointed.
“All the senior staff, including Goodwin, have tried to be as bland as possible,” said one lawyer in the case who has read Goodwin’s witness statement.
For RBS, the failure to secure a settlement with all shareholders means it will be forced to revisit the darkest period in its recent history.
“It will take the organization back to 2008,” RBS Chief Executive Ross McEwan said last week. “One of the reasons I was keen to get it resolved ... was so the bank could move forward again.”
Additional reporting by Lawrence White; editing by Alexander Smith and Rachel Armstrong