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Out-of-court talks on National Bank

Shareholders’ battle for justice

Former shareholders of the National Bank of Malta have agreed to open formal negotiations with the government for an out-of-court settlement to put an end to their almost 40-year battle for justice.

At a meeting held yesterday evening, the shareholders agreed to appoint a team of negotiators to open discussions with the Finance Minister and seek a “fair and equitable settlement as soon as possible”.

It is the first time collective action on this scale has been taken by the shareholders.

In the early 1970s some 300 shareholders were coerced by Dom Mintoff’s government into handing over their shares for free after depositors began withdrawing savings due to rumours about the bank’s liquidity.

The National Bank of Malta was then transformed into Bank of Valletta in 1974.

In 1977, some of the shareholders filed a civil court case against the government to seek compensation, but the case never came to a conclusion.

In 2010 some of the shareholders had tried to negotiate an out-of-court settlement. The government had proposed a compensation figure but the shareholders could not agree upon it.

Now, however, the negotiation team has an official mandate to negotiate and reach a conclusion, ensuring that, once the government offers a fair amount of compensation, a deal could be finalised.

Sources say the government is willing to reopen negotiations.

The shareholders’ negotiation team will be made up of Milica Micovic, Edward Attard Montalto, Conrad Cassar Torregiani and Marcus Scicluna Marshall, representing the biggest ones.

The National Bank saga gained fresh attention recently, partly due to the documentary Dear Dom.

The Sunday Times recently revealed that the Attorney General had in 2010 filed a fresh plea in court to drop the court case on the grounds that it is time-barred.

The plea has been criticised by several people, including former PN president Frank Portelli and historian Henry Frendo.

In an interview, Ms Micovic, director of the Tagliaferro family business (the single largest corporate shareholder of the National Bank), accused the Nationalist government of being an “accomplice” of Mr Mintoff’s.

Even the Labour Party has suggested that the government dismiss its time-bar plea and allow the court to take an independent decision.

The government has failed to react to the criticism, but PN MP Robert Arrigo said this was a “complex” issue that he had tried to help resolve in 2010.

One of the problems, he said, was that the shareholders did not present a common front.

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