A rejection by shareholders today of nationalizing a portion of Fortis Holding could effectively end a separate agreement by the Belgian government to sell a majority of the banks operations, including the asset management division, to BNP Paribas.
At a shareholders meeting, voters rejected the deal by a hair-thin margin; 49.76% of the votes were in support of the agreement, Fortis Holding spokeswoman Kathleen Steel confirmed. The transaction was brokered last fall when Fortis encountered liquidity problems and subsequent falls in share prices.
The company was nationalized by the Dutch and Belgian governments, with a majority portion of the bank and a portion of the insurance business to be subsequently acquired by BNP Paribas. But in December, a court ruling required that shareholders in Belgium be consulted on the deal, leading to todays vote.
In an interview, Liliane Tackaert, spokeswoman for subsidiary Fortis Bank, said: Nothing changes because we are state-owned and remain state-owned until further notice.
Fortis Investments, the banks investment management arm, with €192 billion ($245 billion) in assets as of Sept. 30, also will remain state-owned, Ms. Tackaert added. BNP Paribas could make an amended proposal to acquire the business, take legal action to force the sale or simply walk away from the deal, according to sources.
Christelle Maldague, spokeswoman for BNP Paribas, declined to comment on the shareholder vote.