Wilmington law firm key player in record $1.5 billion European shareholder settlement

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A Wilmington law firm was a key player in a $1.5 billion shareholder settlement in Europe.

A Dutch appeals court officially approved the largest securities settlement ever reached in Europe, clearing the way for international insurance companyAgeas N.V./S.A.to pay$1.5 billion to multiple groups of institutional and individual investors from Europe and the United States.

The ruling was issued by the Amsterdam Court of Appeals, following seven years of litigation in the Dutch courts.

The approved settlement resolves four separate cases brought against Ageas (formerly known asFortis) by various investor claimant groups.

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The lawsuit of one of the claimant groups, the foundation Stichting Investor Claims Against Fortis (SICAF), had over 180 participating institutional investors holding more than 80 million shares. The shareholders were represented by U.S. law firmGrant & Eisenhoferand its co-counsel,Kessler Topaz Meltzer & Check, LLPandDRRT, Inc.

The settlement resolves all claims in connection with the litigation arising out of the 2007 record-breaking acquisition of Dutch bank ABN Amro by Fortis, at the time a Dutch-Belgian financial services company.

The claims, first filed in 2011, concerned the bank’s financial health and the value of its holdings tied to subprime mortgage securities in the United States, issued prior to the 2008 financial crisis.

Between 2007 and 2008, the value of Fortis shareholders were largely wiped out as the price of the bank’s securities plunged, requiring the governments of Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands to bail out Fortis and nationalize the company.

In approving the settlement today, the Court of Appeals declared it binding on all similarly situated claimants pursuant to the WCAM, the Dutch settlement statute for mass damages.

Jay Eisenhofer, managing director at Grant & Eisenhofer, stated: “The 2007-2008 episode involved the company’s previous management. We recognize that Ageas is a different company now, and we’re glad that new management has decided to put this matter behind it. We are proud to have played a lead role in the largest record investor recovery in Europe to date.”

Eisenhofer further stated that the settlement represents an unprecedented result that exceeds all but a few securities class action settlements in the United States, and is the result of years of litigation and months of mediation. “It is also the first among investment dispute settlements under the WCAM that stood on its own and did not build upon a prior settlement of U.S. litigation,” he said.

Olav Haazen, who led the settlement negotiations for Grant & Eisenhofer, noted that although there is no traditional U.S.-style class action mechanism in European courts, the application of the WCAM in the Fortis case resulted in a “class-like settlement” for investors similar to U.S. cases. All eligible shareholders will be entitled to compensation, and investors who chose to actively pursue litigation, through Grant & Eisenhofer or other organizations, will receive a 25 percent premium over absent class members.

Grant & Eisenhofer has pioneered pursuing shareholder claims in Europe and is currently involved in a number of international shareholder actions.

The Fortis settlement exceeds two previous record shareholder settlements in Europe with which Grant & Eisenhofer was closely involved.

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