James Hardie civil trial underway in Australia

A civil trial, in which former directors of building products giant James Hardie have been accused of misleading investors, is underway in Sydney, Australia.

The trial of former directors of the company -- each of whom face maximum fines of around $165,000 if found liable -- centers on a claim they “failed to act” with due diligence when they underestimated the costs of an asbestos settlement plan. James Hardie formerly produced asbestos and was headquartered in Sydney until 2001, when it moved to the Netherlands.

The company ended up falling short in its investment fund by about $830 million, or 1 billion Australian dollars. In all, the company agreed on an approximately $3.3 billion asbestos settlement. The company is being sued by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission.

James Hardie has said it will “actively defend” the claims made by the commission, which include charges of false or misleading statements on the matter.

James Hardie negotiated the original asbestos settlement over a substantial time, with input from unions, former workers, investors and other stakeholders. In a statement last year, following the company’s first payment to the Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund in Australia, James Hardie chairman Meredith Hellicar wrote, “We are delighted to have made the first payment to the Fund under the agreement supported by our security holders this week. Like many, we have been looking forward to making this a reality for a long time."

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