Thursday, July 23, 2009

SCMP:Legco inquiry to proceed despite agreement on compensation

23 July 2009

A proposed deal to settle all investor claims against banks involved in the Lehman Brothers minibond debacle will not derail attempts by the Legislative Council to get to the bottom of the unprecedented case.

Raymond Ho Chung-tai, chairman of the Legco subcommittee investigating the minibond saga, declined to comment on the settlement deal but said the investigation would continue.

The subcommittee was set up to examine issues relating to the way banks sold the structured investments to clients and not to help investors seek compensation, Mr Ho said. He said it would publish its findings in a report by next year at the earliest.

Similarly, the Consumer Council will proceed with its application to the consumer legal action fund to bring a case to court against a financial institution that sold a Lehman-related product to an investor. But a spokesman for the council said investors should seriously consider the settlement deal.

Some lawmakers, including Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee and Jeffery Lam Kin-fung, said the deal was acceptable. "The deal is quite good and covers a lot of the investors," Mrs Ip said. "Banks here are more generous than those in Singapore." On average, investors in Singapore got back only 32.2 per cent of their investment, she said.

But Democrat legislator Kam Nai-wai called on the government to get the banks to first reveal the remaining value of the Lehman products' underlying assets. Mr Kam insisted it was unfair to investors if they had to decide whether or not to accept the deal before knowing what the collateral of their investment was worth.

Minibonds are not corporate bonds, but consist of high-risk credit-linked derivatives. They are marketed as a proxy investment in well-known firms.

A Ms Lau, who sunk US$100,000 of her grandfather's savings into Lehman minibonds, said the settlement offer did not adequately reflect the banks' responsibility to investors. She said she felt the banks were trying to absolve themselves without shouldering responsibility by paying off investors through the settlement deal. "I still haven't told my grandfather that the money is in Lehman minibonds," Ms Lau said. "I'm afraid he wouldn't be able to take the news if I told him."

Kitty Lai, who poured HK$6 million into minibonds, flatly rejected the deal and accused the government and regulators of siding with the banks.

"You cannot trust the government or the Hong Kong Monetary Authority. Sometimes, when I think about this, I just want to kill myself," Ms Lai said.

To Kam-leung, whose 66-year-old father purchased Lehman minibonds from the Bank of Communications, said his family would accept the deal even though they felt it was unreasonable.

"It's because we don't want it to drag on. And we only invested HK$120,000, which is a comparatively small amount," he said. "My father suffers from diabetes and the minibond issue has troubled us for months. We also bear part of the responsibility because my father trusted the bank staff and didn't consult us before signing the documents."

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