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Times Online: Pressure on ABN chief mounts

An important Shell shareholder says that it is undecided on whether to re-elect Rijkman Groenink to the Shell board

May 11, 2007
Rhys Blakely and agencies

Doubts over the future of Rijkman Groenink, the embattled chief executive of the bank ABN Amro, increased after ABP, one of the largest Dutch pension funds, acknowledged that it was undecided on whether to vote on his reappointment as a non-executive director of Royal Dutch Shell, the oil giant.

The Dutch media reported that ABP, one of Shell’s largest shareholders, was planning to vote against Mr Groenink’s reappointment at Shell’s annual meeting on Tuesday, citing internal ABP documents.

ABP said that it would not discuss the content of the document, adding that “it was a discussion paper and at the moment there is no decision”.

It said that it would make its final decision public on Tuesday.

Any vote against Mr Groenink would be a blow to the embattled head of ABN Amro, whose handling of the fraught multibillion-euro sale of the bank has come under fierce criticism.

TCI, the activist hedge fund, has called for Mr Rijkman Groenink to step down from ABN, and VEB, the Dutch shareholders-rights group, said that his position was untenable.

Concerns over the state of the ABN camp led by Mr Groenink were ramped up yesterday when the company’s finance director, who was expected to stay at the Dutch bank until the merger of his bank with Barclays had completed, quit early.

Hugh Scott-Barrett, the chief financial officer of ABN since last year, said that he was leaving after deciding not to take the job that he was offered in the proposed takeover of ABN Amro by Barclays for €67 billion (£46 billion).

He originally was expected to leave once the meger was bedded in.

It is understood that he was not offered the finance director post in the merged company.

However, It is far from certain whether Barclays will succeed in buying the Dutch group after a court blocked ABN Amro’s sale of LaSalle, its US bank, to Bank of America, a decision that ABN has said it will appeal.

Meanwhile, Bank of America is suing ABN for not completing the sale agreement.

There is a higher offer for ABN from RBS, Santander and Fortis that requires LaSalle to be part of the package.

Cor Kluis, a Rabobank analyst, said of ABN yesterday: “The longer the process takes, the more good people will leave.”

Today it emerged that George Niedringhaus, global head of emerging market debt syndication, has left ABN to run Russianbank VTB’s global fixed income trading business in London.

Last month ABN Amro Asset Management’s emerging market fund manager Raphael Kassin left for Credit Suisse.

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