Four investment firms to pay $428.4 million (euro321 million) to settle WorldCom suit
Mark Johnson Associated Press Albany, New York
Four investment banks on Wednesday agreed to pay a total of US$428.4 million to settle claims stemming from a class-action lawsuit brought by former shareholders of WorldCom Inc.
New York state Comptroller Alan Hevesi said in a statement that he had reached an agreement with Amsterdam-based ABN AMRO Bank for $278.4 million. Mitsubishi Securities International PLC agreed to pay $75 million, while BNP Paribas Securities Corp. and Mizuho International both agreed to pay $37.5 million.
Wednesday's settlements bring the total amount paid by investment banks to settle the suit to $3.56 billion, surpassing the $3.2 billion settlement by services giant Cendant Corp. in 2000 over accounting fraud that cost shareholders billions, Hevesi said.
The WorldCom suit was brought against former officers and directors of the company; its accountant, Arthur Andersen LLP; and more than a dozen banks and brokerages that were underwriters of WorldCom bonds.
The announcement came as a jury was in its fourth day of deliberations in the fraud trial of former WorldCom CEO Bernard Ebbers, accused of orchestrating the accounting scheme that drove the telecommunications company into bankruptcy.
The parties that filed the suit claimed the defendants should have been aware of ongoing fraud at WorldCom, which has since emerged from bankruptcy as MCI Inc.
The agreement is the latest of a string of settlements connected to WorldCom.
Last week, Lehman Brothers Inc. of New York agreed to pay $62.7 million to settle the suit. Three other investment banks each agreed to pay $12.54 million. They are Credit Suisse First Boston, a unit of the Zurich-based Credit Suisse Group; Goldman, Sachs & Co. of New York, and UBS Warburg LLC of Stamford, Connecticut.
Hevesi has been the lead plaintiff in the case, in his role as sole trustee of New York's public employees retirement fund.
Hevesi said he remains willing to talk with other defendants about potential settlements but is ready to take the case to court March 17.
Last on Thursday, Bank of America Corp., which is headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, agreed to pay $460.5 million for its role in bond sales before WorldCom collapsed in 2002 amid allegations of an $11 billion accounting fraud. Late last year, Citigroup Inc., the nation's largest financial institution, paid $2.58 billion to settle its share of the class action suit.
Among the institutions that haven't yet settled are JPMorgan Chase & Co., as well as divisions of a few foreign banks, said John Chartier, a spokesman for Hevesi. Divisions of a number of foreign banks, including Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank AG, also have yet to settle.