Maxwell funds to pursue BNP

A £33m claim against Banque Nationale de Paris by liquidators of the Robert Maxwell pension funds will start in the Paris courts today, even if attempts to broker a global settlement of all claims in the Maxwell saga are successful.

Today is the deadline for institutions holding disputed Maxwell pension fund assets to name the amounts they are prepared to offer as compensation in the proposed settlement. The trustees of the pension funds then have to decide whether to accept. They hope to deliver their verdict by the weekend.

Although the talks under Sir John Cuckney's leadership are aimed at a global settlement, significant claims remain outside the talks. In particular, it is unclear whether BNP is willing to pay into the global settlement over the £33m claim. Whether thereis a settlement or not, the Paris court case will go ahead.

In 1990 Robert Maxwell pledged £33m of shares in Euris, a French investment trust, to BNP as collateral for a loan to a private Maxwell company. BNP lent Fr180m (£22.5m) to Headington Holdings, a private Maxwell company.

Neil Cooper, of Robson Rhodes and liquidator of Bishopsgate Investment Management, the main Maxwell pension fund, claims the Euris shares were improperly removed from BIM and should be returned, or their value in cash.

The London talks towards a global settlement were last night still on the brink. If they fail, pensioners' representatives will have to pursue their claims through the courts at huge expense.

Ken Trench, chairman of the Maxwell Pensioners' Action Group, put the talks' chances of success last night at 60 to 40 in favour.

"It would be a horrendous scenario if we were forced into the courts. We would be looking at tens of millions of pounds of legal costs," said Mr Trench.

Much will depend on the Government's attitude towards the £115m in state scheme premiums that it has waived since the discovery of the pension funds' losses.

These premiums still have to be repaid by the Maxwell pension funds, but the timing of the repayment is all important.