Jan Maarten Slagter: This is taking too long

Jan Maarten Slagter thinks duped investors shouldn’t have to wait ten years for compensation.

On October 3rd , 2008 Jan-Peter Balkenende, Wouter Bos and Nout Wellink stood in front of a microphone and explained the rationale behind the nationalisation of ABN Amro, Fortis Bank Nederland and ASR Insurances. It was a historic moment, in more senses than one. Three and a half years on, all of the protagonists have left the scene and, effectively, have become history themselves.
Social importance
Days later the VEB announced it would start an official inquiry. We thought getting to the bottom of how it all happened was a matter of overriding social importance. Questions needed to be answered about the mistakes that were made during the ABN Amro take-over, the far too positive messages Fortis kept sending out, the failure of the ‘first bail-out’ at the end of September, and the subsequent rough division of the group. An inquiry was justified, not only because society deserved answers but because Fortis shareholders had collectively lost billions of euros.
On the 31st of the same month we paid a visit to the Amsterdam enterprise chamber which granted our request for an inquest. From that moment on things ground to a halt. The inquest took 18 months to complete. When it came out in June 2010, it contained more than enough evidence of mismanagement by former Fortis executives for the VEB to ask the enterprise chamber to make a pronouncement. Following the exchange of documents in this case, the second phase of the complaints mismanagement procedure, the pleas were made on April 26th and 28th 2011, almost a year ago.
Before the twelve months were up the chamber had come to a tough conclusion: the Fortis board had been guilty of mismanagement on seven grounds.
The Fortis case is by no means unique. Other cases the VEB has been involved in have taken years to complete, and some are ongoing. And it should be borne in mind that a pronouncement of mismanagement in itself is only the beginning. It will have to be followed up with a compensation claims procedure. And there’s always the possibility of a cassation appeal, which Fortis, now Ageas, is availing itself of.
It is clear that changes will have to be made. The VEB may be able to afford to be in it for the long haul but the same isn’t true of the majority of duped investors. It shouldn’t take ten years to get compensation. The companies concerned and their executives also need to put the case behind them.
Either the enterprise chamber (whose dedicated lawyers are working extremely hard) employs more people (even a few would make a big difference) or it shortens procedures. We can’t continue like this.
Jan Maarten Slagter is director of the Dutch investors’ association Vereninging van Effectenbezitters

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