MGN pensioners may settle pounds 200m claim out of court: Capel-Cure Myers, Invesco and Lehman Brothers finally agree to discuss return of 'stolen' assets

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The Independent Online
THE pounds 200m legal claim by Mirror Group pensioners against three financial institutions looks like being settled out of court, avoiding millions of pounds of legal fees. The claim is for the return of assets stolen by the late Robert Maxwell.

Counsel for the Mirror Group Pension Trustees successfully applied yesterday for an adjournment of the case until Monday, so that talks between all parties could continue. The case had already been adjourned once from Tuesday for the same reason.

One source close to the case said yesterday: 'It looks increasingly likely that there will be no court case.' The case was expected to last for six months.

Trustees of the Mirror Group pension scheme, representing 12,000 present and future pensioners, are suing the pension fund managers Capel-Cure Myers and Invesco MIM (now called Invesco), and the US brokerage and investment bank Lehman Brothers, the securities wing of American Express.

David Shaw MP, a member of the Social Security Select Committee, which has campaigned on behalf of Maxwell pensioners, attacked the institutions for waiting so late to agree to talks on a settlement. 'It's a pity these cases didn't collapse two years ago,' he said.

Mr Shaw said Mr Justice Millett had found in his judgment on an earlier Maxwell case that institutions holding disputed pension fund assets would be unlikely to be able to resist a claim against them by pensioners.

'The committee will examine any settlement to see that pensioners' rights are ensured,' he said.

After the adjournment yesterday morning, Invesco said it was 'in discussion' with Invesco Asset Management and the other two institutions. Another announcement would be made shortly. Lehman, Capel-Cure Myers and the trustees all refused to comment.

The case centres on stock lending arrangements between the pension funds and Lehman, in which Maxwell used fund assets as collateral to swap stocks in exchange for US Treasury bills.

The bills were sold, but the proceeds, instead of being returned to the pension funds, were diverted towards strengthening Maxwell's declining business empire.

The trustees have claimed that the fund managers should never have handed over the assets, and that Lehman was also liable because it agreed to deal with Maxwell. All three should have known that he was illegally plundering the funds.

The defendants have strongly denied liability, arguing that they too are victims of Maxwell's activities.

With nine QCs, 10 junior counsel and seven sets of solicitors involved, the costs bill would run into millions, in addition to the considerable sums already incurred for preliminary hearings.

Earlier this month, Bank of America agreed, with no admission of liability, to pay pounds 25m into the Mirror pension fund.

The bank had acted as custodian of pounds 38m worth of shares owned by the pension scheme and passed them to Credit Suisse as security for loans to one of Maxwell's private companies. Court proceedings are still pending against Credit Suisse.

Because the trustees' case concerns the way Robert Maxwell pledged millions of pounds worth of assets to several different institutions, other parties were also in the courtroom. They included Bishopsgate Investment Management, the main Maxwell pension fund, and Credit Suisse.

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