April 30, 2009 / 5:29 PM / 10 years ago

Sarkozy aide Perol heckled at French bank AGM

* Perol heckled at Natixis AGM

* Small group of protesters briefly disrupt AGM

* Perol says no plans to delist Natixis

By Sudip Kar-Gupta

PARIS, April 30 (Reuters) - One of Nicolas Sarkozy’s key aides was heckled on Thursday at the annual shareholder meeting of a bank where huge losses caused the French president to intervene to try to stabilise the situation this year.

Earlier this year, Sarkozy helped parachute his aide Francois Perol in to head up the company formed from the ongoing merger of Banque Populaire and Groupe Caisse d’Epargne, which have been hit by losses at their shared Natixis (CNAT.PA) unit

The annual shareholder meeting of Natixis on Thursday was the first time Perol, a former Rothschild banker, had addressed the general French public, and certain members of the audience gave him a hostile reception.

Cries of “Robbers! Bandits!” were called out at intervals by a significant portion of the crowd, which was about 1,000 people strong. CRS riot police units monitored the outside of the building.

The meeting in the Defense business area of Paris took place just yards from the headquarters of Societe Generale (SOGN.PA), the French bank that also drew Sarkozy’s wrath last year when it fell victim to the one of the world’s worst trading scandals.

While the meeting was far calmer than the chaotic scenes at a Fortis FOR.BR shareholder meeting in Belgium this week, a small group of about three protesters still managed to disrupt it, shouting out insults and throwing paper around.

PEROL CONTROVERSY

Natixis was formed in 2006 from the merger of the IXIS investment bank of Caisse d’Epargne with Banque Populaire’s Natexis investment banking division.

However, as the global credit crisis worsened in 2007, Natixis gradually booked more and more writedowns on assets and started posting losses. In February, Natixis posted a fourth-quarter net loss of 1.6 billion euros ($2.13 billion).

Banque Populaire and Caisse d’Epargne together own more than 70 percent of Natixis, and its problems caused the two mutual banks to post historic losses earlier this year.

Natixis has been France’s worst-performing bank stock for the last two years and first listed on the Paris bourse in December 2006 with a debut price of 19.55 euros.

The collapse in its share price, which ended down 1.5 percent at 1.74 euros on Thursday, hit thousands of French customers who were encouraged to buy into the Natixis flotation by Banque Populaire and Caisse d’Epargne branch managers.

There has been widespread speculation Natixis will eventually get delisted, but Perol denied this was the case.

“A delisting is not on the current agenda,” he said.

Perol’s appointment has been criticised by both left-wing and some right-wing politicians in France, who argue that Sarkozy might wield too much influence over the bank.

They have also cited a possible conflict of interest since Rothschild worked on the Caisse d’Epargne/Banque Populaire merger while Perol was there. (Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta) ($1=.7511 Euro)

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