Fortis shareholders may ask for vote

BRUSSELS, Belgium: A group of shareholders in troubled lender Fortis NV said Wednesday they may seek a shareholder vote on Dutch and Belgian government moves to buy up parts of the bank.

The Euroshareholders association said Fortis' management lost €30 billion (US$41 billion) in market capitalization, dismantled the company and consistently misinformed them.

Fortis shares — now suspended — have dropped some 90 percent since the start of the year.

After a government bailout, the nationalization of the bank's Dutch operations and the sale of most of the rest of the company to BNP Paribas, Euroshareholders members said they are left with a marginalized company holding a small portfolio of toxic assets and a small insurance company with no potential buyer.

They said they will consider campaigning for a shareholder vote to approve the Dutch government's €16.8 billion (US$23.2 billion) acquisition of Fortis and ABN Amro in the Netherlands.

They noted that under Dutch law shareholder approval would also be required for Belgium and Luxembourg's purchase of operations in their countries as well as the governments' sale of most of those operations to BNP Paribas.

Euroshareholders said it will investigate whether it can claim damages "from parties involved" and will probe company mismanagement as well as whether Fortis was honest about its problems and the impact of the financial crisis.

It is asking shareholders to sign up to its campaign on its Web site.

Shares in Fortis — previously the biggest bank in the Netherlands and Belgium — were more popular than any other stock for many small Belgian investors because they were seen as a solid investment.

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