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Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced Monday his office is investigating actions taken by trustees of the Otto Bremer Trust in an ongoing dispute over ownership of Bremer Financial Corp. and Bremer Bank. (Staff photo: Joel Schettler)

Attorney general investigating Bremer dispute

The growing battle to control Bremer Bank has drawn the attention of Attorney General Keith Ellison, who announced Monday his office is investigating stock sales and other actions taken by the Otto Bremer Trust.

In a letter to the court, filed by Ellison’s office in the ongoing lawsuit by Bremer Financial Corp. directors against Otto Bremer Trust trustees, Minnesota’s top law enforcement official said an investigation was launched Jan. 6 and urged the court and parties to stay the case to allow enough time for the investigation to proceed.

Under state law, the Attorney General’s Office is responsible for administering and enforcing laws governing charitable trusts and representing the interests of the public who stand to benefit from a trust’s charitable activities. In a statement, Ellison said he has not taken a position on the shareholder lawsuit but seeks to determine whether the Otto Bremer trustees have acted out of self-interest or in violation of the governing documents of the trust.

“Charitable assets are public assets that charitable trusts hold on behalf of the people of Minnesota,” Ellison said. “My office is using the broad authority we have under the law to make sure that charitable trust assets are used for the public good. This includes by representing the public in making sure that trustees fulfill their fiduciary duties and remain faithful to the charitable purpose of the trust.”

The lawsuit, filed in November, is one of several parallel cases pending in court over the future ownership of the bank, currently more than 90% owned by the Otto Bremer Trust. Bank officials have accused the three Otto Bremer trustees, who also sit on the Bremer Financial Corp. board, of trying to force a sale of the bank for personal profit, and of selling stock in violation of a provision set by founder Otto Bremer that such sales take place only when “necessary and proper” due to “unforeseen circumstances.”

The trustees, in their counterclaim, have argued the sale is necessary to ensure the trust remains in compliance with federal tax law, and that such a sale will benefit shareholders, employees and customers. Additional actions have been brought by Bremer Bank employees and several outside funds to whom the trust sold Bremer stock.

The trust said in a statement it welcomes Ellison’s intervention in the case.

“We appreciate the Attorney General’s thorough review of the current situation and particularly for clarifying the role his office plays in terms of oversight and as the only party with standing to represent the beneficial interests of OBT,” a spokesperson said via email. “We’ve been working closely with the Attorney General’s office for 75 years and welcome its active involvement in this matter to ensure the best outcome for OBT’s beneficiaries.”

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