At the heart of an unusually public dispute in England is the extent of a money manager's legal responsibility for its investment performance for institutional clients.

According to published reports, a pension fund is claiming approximately $160 million in compensation from a Merrill Lynch & Co. division, Mercury Asset Management, that underperformed client-set benchmarks. The client, Unilever Pension Fund, asserts that other clients had better results and attributes this to the firm's lack of controls and central discipline.

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