Carol Galley, a fund manager widely acknowledged as the most powerful woman in the City, has faced questions in court over her firm’s alleged mismanagement of the £600m pension fund of Anglo-Dutch consumer products giant Unilever.

Mercury Asset Management (MAM), now a subsidiary of US investment behemoth Merrill Lynch, has been sued by Unilever fund trustees for £130m over allegations of negligence throughout 1997 and 1998.

MAM’s appointment of fund manager 27-year-old Alistair Lennard, who worked under Galley’s supervision, is at the heart of the issue. Unilever say Lennard took risks with the fund money that ended up costing the firm millions of pounds. Merrill says however that Unilever knew its strategy at the time and raised few objections until the risks actually failed to pay off.

Galley, who is often nicknamed the Ice Maiden, admitted that Lennard was “greatly less experienced” than other members of her management team, but stressed that the decision to increase the risks was a positive one aimed at boosting performance.

The case, which is often billed by media as a head to head confrontation between Galley and Unilever’s head of investment Wendy Mayall, is expected to receive a ruling within six weeks.

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