The trial begins today in Brussels in which members of the Arco cooperative try to reclaim up to €1.5 billion in investments lost when Dexia bank went bust in 2011.
Dexia failed because of bad investments. One of the major shareholders was Arco, a cooperative associated with the Christian workers’ movement ACV. Their savers, known as cooperants, numbered 800,000 and their total investment €1.5 billion.
Dexia had been seen as a safe investment for the cooperants, most of whom were more like members of a savings club that active investors. With the fall of Dexia, they lost everything.
Politicians at the time had promised them their investments were safe, and they would get their money back, but the courts put paid to that promise. If ordinary shareholders lost their investment, the courts decided, then Arco investors must be treated no differently.
Today, 2,172 Arco cooperants will turn up in the new massive courtroom at the old Nato headquarters in Haren for a trial to try to get their savings back. Together, they are claiming just over €9 million – the original investment plus interest.
The claim targets Arco, former Arco CEO Francine Swiggers, Belfius (formerly known as Dexia) and the Belgian state.
The state is being targeted because then prime minister Yves Leterme (CD&V) has advised Arco cooperants to invest heavily in the failing Dexia, using his influence on the Catholic movement. He gave the assurance – or at least let it be understood – that their investment would be guaranteed by the government, in the same way as saving accounts are.
But that was not the case then, and after the courts have finished with the matter, it is not the case now. Any Arco investment in Dexia was as risky as any other. The cooperants claim they were duped, and are now seeking redress.
The Nato building, henceforth to be known as Justitia, is being used because of the large number of civil parties. The former headquarters of the alliance has been thoroughly refitted to house the forthcoming trial of those accused of involvement in the 2016 terrorist attacks in Zaventem and Brussels.
Proceedings will take place on five days, ending on 30 June. A verdict is not expected until after the summer holidays.