LONDON (Reuters) - A London High Court judge on Wednesday called off a trial due to begin on Wednesday in a long-running investor lawsuit against Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS.L) over its 2008 rights issue that would have called disgraced former CEO Fred Goodwin to testify.
But Judge Robert Hildyard said a minority of rebel shareholders, who have not accepted an out-of-court settlement, could apply for the trial to resume if they could prove by the end of July that they had sufficient funding.
“In a difficult and novel situation, the process of bringing an end is not as easy as might be thought,” Hildyard told the court. To laughter in the courtroom, he said: “It is the mark of a settlement that neither side should feel it (is) correct.”
Shareholders have alleged the bank and its senior executives misled them during a 12 billion pound ($15.50 billion) share sale launched just before RBS’s near collapse and record 45.8 billion pound bank bailout in 2008. They lost around 80 percent of their investments.
RBS has offered the RBoS Shareholder Action Group 82 pence per share, or around 200 million pounds, to drop the case. A lawyer for the group told the court earlier that 87 percent of the group had settled or intended to agree to the deal.
The bank said its offer remained open for a short period to the 13 percent of shareholders who had yet to formally accept it and stated that none of the outstanding claimants had indicated any intention to continue the claim.
A formal, final settlement would draw a line under a saga that has threatened to rake over the darkest chapter in RBS’s history and has cost the bank around 1.0 billion pounds in legal fees and payouts.
The offer falls far short of the 200-230 pence-per-share at which investors - including thousands of current and former RBS employees - bought RBS shares at during the rights issue at the height of the financial crisis.
Thousands of investors, including UK pension funds, European and U.S. institutions and local authorities, have already settled.
But Scottish businessman Neil Mitchell, a former RBS customer, investor and critic of the bank, said on Monday that a faction within the shareholder group had raised the necessary cash to continue with the case.
Jonathan Nash, a lawyer for the RBoS Shareholder Action Group, told the court on Wednesday that there had been no evidence of such funding in a case in which investors have already been told current legal and other costs would reduce their payout by 40-45 percent.
But in a five-year battle, in which the shareholder group has batted off questions about the adequacy of its funding and switched legal teams three times, some investors have said the case is about more than money.
“We have the situation here where the ‘small’ (investors) feel that we do not even register anywhere in the process and that the likes of Goodwin have walked away from the wreckage without having to account for their actions in any shape or form,” said Stephen Allen, a 67-year-old RBS investor from the town of Sandy, eastern England.
“It seems to me we are in a situation where it is game, set and match to the legal profession.”
Writing by Kirstin Ridley. Editing by Jane Merriman