Hopes rise for 300m pounds Maxwell settlement: Pensioners 'praying ' as professional fees for winding up group near pounds 125m

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HOPES are rising that a pounds 300m global settlement of all claims relating to the collapse of Robert Maxwell's business empire will be agreed by October, heading off the threat of costly litigation, as forecasts for professional fees for winding up the group pass pounds 125m.

Until recently those close to the settlement talks put chances of an agreement at about 50:50. Now they put it at 60:40 in favour.

Pensioners are keen to reach a settlement to head off further professional fees being charged by the liquidators and lawyers, who are sorting out the Maxwell companies. Fees have already topped pounds 100m.

Yesterday, Price Waterhouse, the administrators of the American arm, Maxwell Communication Corporation (MCC), estimated their total fees, including legal costs, would reach pounds 75m to pounds 85m.

Together with estimates from the other receivers and liquidators winding up the 800 Maxwell companies worldwide, total professional fees could reach pounds 130m.

Sir John Cuckney and Peter Webster were appointed by the Government 18 months ago to seek a global agreement between the City institutions that hold money and securities relating to the Maxwell empire, to ensure a secure future for the 30,000 present and future Maxwell pensioners.

Maxwell pensioners' representatives and MPs accepted that liquidators' fees were 'frightening'. The Social Security Select Committee said last year that a likely total cost of up to pounds 100m 'cannot be justified'.

However, their view now is that the sheer complexity of the case always meant costs would be heavy, and that these fees would be just the start if a global settlement could not be reached.

In the past few months City institutions have improved their attitude to an agreement following favourable publicity given to Lehman Brothers, Capel-Cure Myers and Invesco, which settled pounds 32m with the Mirror Group pension trustees in February this year.

Ken Trench, chairman of the Maxwell Pensioners Action group, said: 'Pensioners are praying the out-of-court global settlement is reached soon. If it fails, pensioners will face massive legal fees that will have to come out of the third of the pension fund left.'

David Shaw, Conservative MP for Dover and a member of the select committee, said it was important not to jeopardise any possibility of a global settlement.