The mystery of the lost SNS Reaal shares has all the elements of a good detective story, says Jan Maarten Slagter, director of the Dutch investors association VEB.
You’ve read enough detective stories to know that in order to solve a murder, you need a murder weapon. That element of the puzzle is almost as important as the body.
He who finds the dagger, the lead pipe or the wrench has found the beginning of a trail – there may be fingerprints, the shop where the weapon was sold might be traced, or someone has been seen carrying the thing. Without a murder weapon all you are left with is an untimely death and a big mess.
The same holds true for ‘The mystery of the lost SNS Reaal shares’. It has all the elements of a good detective story: the ambitions of an upright savings bank, its unruly boss, the glamour of the stock exchange, the lure of the ‘transformative takeover’, and the ensuing fall from grace.
So far it’s more Greek tragedy than detective story but don’t worry, there is an ‘unnatural death’ – the nationalisation.
The murder weapon used in the dastardly act was a new valuation of the property portfolio of the unfortunate insurer. The finance minister asked consultants Cushman & Wakefield what they though the portfolio was worth.
The result was dramatically different from what SNS Reaal – and its accountant and supervisory authority – had assumed it was. The portfolio needed shoring up as quickly as possible. When private parties failed to come up with the money ahead of the deadline set by the Dutch Bank, SNS Reaal was nationalised.
In order to follow the trail and understand the nationalisation – or, in the case of the Council of State, form an opinion on it – you need to see the Cushman & Wakefield report, especially since it has proved controversial.
The former SNS bosses’ letter to the finance minister made mincemeat out of the consultants’ investigation: important documents were ignored, no talks were held with responsible staff at SNS Reaal and no appeal was possible against the (devastating) conclusions of the report.
In short: ‘The results of the Cushman & Wakefield report do not warrant any conclusions or actions’, according to former ceo Ronald Latenstein and former cfo Ferenc Lamp. Famous last words.
Of course the SNS Reaal executives were biased in their own favour and fighting for survival. But that doesn’t mean their criticism should not be looked into. This, however, is impossible: their comments are not included in the documents handed over to the Council of State by those involved in the expropriation process. And that is unacceptable.
Jan Maarten Slagter is director of the Dutch shareholders association VEB. This article was first published in the Financieele Dagblad.
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