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South Africa: Workers Launch $100bn Lawsuit

by Nicol Degli InnocentiFinancial Times
October 13th, 2003

A $100bn lawsuit seeking compensation for workers employed in South Africa during the apartheid era will be filed in London today against several pension fund managers, international banks, insurers and companies.

The case is being brought by Ed Fagan, the controversial US lawyer, and a group of South African colleagues on behalf of over 10,000 former employees of companies operating in South Africa. The lawyers allege their clients were "victims of what could be viewed as one of the greatest corporate, accounting, banking, financial services, and pension and benefit fund frauds in history".

Their document, of which the FT has a copy, states that the claims involve "the wrongful accounting, improper transfer, withholding and/or outright theft of tens of billions of dollars in deposited assets in worker pension and benefits funds" from 1975 to the present.

The lawsuit will be brought against Alexander Forbes, a South African- based financial services company, and other so far-unnamed pension fund managers, corporate insurance companies and accountants.

The companies named include Union Carbide, Dow Chemical, Vametco, Stratcor, AngloAmerican, CalTex, De Beers, DaimlerChrysler, GoldFields, Sasol and Fluor. It is alleged they conspired with pension fund managers, insurers, actuaries and banks to deprive thousands of mainly black, unskilled employees of their pensions: "The scheme was quite simple. It was to take billions of dollars from the workers on a company by company basis." The lawyers, who are asking for $10bn in damages for each of the 10 causes of action plus exemplary and punitive damages and costs, claim to have solid evidence to back their cases. The document, however, only contains unproven allegations.

The chief executive of one of the companies named told the FT the idea of a conspiracy against workers was "far-fetched" and the basis for the lawsuit seemed "very flimsy indeed".

Mr Fagan, who shot to notoriety when he forced Swiss banks into a $1.25bn settlement on behalf of victims of the Nazis, said there were many similarities between the two cases.

He said: "The plaintiff class in this particular case is very similar to that of the Holocaust victims who had claims against the Swiss banks for monies that were deposited into the banks but were never returned or properly accounted for after the Holocaust."

On November 5 in New York, Judge John E. Sprizzo will rule on whether another case, seeking reparations for apartheid and brought by the same team of lawyers against many companies and banks, has merit.

While most of the plaintiffs in the two cases are the same, the lawyers say the claims are totally distinct.

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