Sir John Cuckney, the government-appointed arbiter in compensation talks between Maxwell pensioners and City institutions, has laid down a two-week deadline by which agreement on a global settlement of all claims must be made.
If the talks fail, there is a real risk of an avalanche of costly litigation between representatives of 20,000 Maxwell pensioners and institutions holding disputed pensions assets.
Both sides have already ditched the Government's original vision of a global settlement and are now talking of a scaled-down "major settlement" between the main financial institutions holding disputed Maxwell assets.
If this is not agreed, a series of bilateral settlements between the pension trustees and the institutions may still be possible. But if the current talks fail, there is a possibility of a legal free-for-all, which could lead to years of uncertainty for the pensioners.
A sticking point in the talks has been the size of the institutions' payment to the pensioners. The pension funds needed between pounds 280m and pounds 300m to make up the amount plundered from them by the late tycoon Robert Maxwell, while the institutions have so far offered up to pounds 240m.
Another problem has been the temporary withdrawal of one of the pensioners' representatives from the talks. Law Debenture represents 5,000 members of the Maxwell Communications Pension Plan.
Under the original terms of the talks, the government-appointed arbiter, Sir Peter Webster, said he would break off the discussions if any party withdrew. …