Belgian shareholders win two-month stay and right to decide

The Belgian government will today decide how to respond to shareholders’ demands for a better deal in the sale Belgian Forits to BNP Paribas after winning a court ban on the sale until 12 February, agencies report.

Lawyer Mischael Modrikamen, representing about 2,000 shareholders, said the Belgian and Dutch governments as well French bank BNP Paribas that is due to buy much of the Belgian operations, should find a deal that gives better value for shareholders.

"I appeal to the government ... to sit round the table with the Netherlands, BNP, Fortis and shareholders and find a constructive solution that is fair to all," Modrikamen told a news conference.

The court froze decisions made by the Fortis board on the company's sale until after a meeting of shareholders have had a chance to discuss it. That must take place within two months.

BNP Paribas was expected to have completed its deal this month to buy Fortis assets in Belgium, while the Dutch government already has the Dutch assets of Fortis.

Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme confirmed on Sunday his government would decide on Monday on a next course of legal action, saying an appeal to the Supreme Court or a bid to enter the case as an affected third party were the likely options.

Fortis chief executive officer Filip Dierckx said on Saturday he had been surprised by the court decision, saying he believed the break-up operation would be successful. "We believe we can create value and it is important for our clients. We have to follow that way," he said.

According to the court decision, the Belgian state would be forbidden to sell Fortis assets to BNP Paribas before 16 February, and would face a €5bn (£4.5bn) penalty if it did.