Posts Tagged Schemes of arrangement

International Bank of Azerbaijan: Principle or practice of ‘modified universalism’ in (cram-down resulting from) insolvency proceedings.

[2018] EWHC 59 (Ch) International Bank of Azerbaijan is an excellent illustration of the practicality v the doctrine of modified universalism in international insolvency law, as well as of the binding force of precedent even in a changing world. Hildyard J first summarises at 2 the question raised as ‘whether the Court has power to grant a permanent moratorium or stay to prevent a creditor exercising its rights under a contract governed by English law in order to prevent that creditor enforcing its rights contrary to the terms of the foreign insolvency proceeding by which all creditors were, under the relevant foreign law, intended to be bound. If it does, the second question is whether in its discretion the Court should exercise that power.’

IBA has fallen into financial difficulties, obliging it to enter into a restructuring proceeding under Azeri law. The Foreign Representative, Ms Gunel Bakhshiyeva (hence also giving her name to the official case-name) had the High Court issue an order  recognising the Restructuring Proceeding as a foreign main proceeding. That recognition order imposes a wide-ranging moratorium preventing creditors from commencing or continuing any action against IBA or its property without the permission of the Court.  The plan proposed by IBA pursuant to the restructuring proceeding has been approved by a substantial majority at a meeting of creditors in Azerbaijan, sanctioned by the relevant Azeri court, and as a matter of Azeri law, the plan is now binding on all affected creditors, including those who did not vote and those who voted against the Plan: a classic cram-down.

Respondents in the case contend that the plan cannot bind them. In each case their relationship as creditor with IBA is governed by English law. They rely on the (1890) rule in Gibbs, which states that a debt governed by English law cannot be discharged by a foreign insolvency proceeding. Reformulating the essential issues at 19, Hildyard J summarises them as

(1) Whether the Court has jurisdiction to extend a moratorium imposed under the CBIR without limit as to time, and in particular, beyond the date on which the foreign proceeding will terminate; and

(2) If so, whether the Court should refuse to lift the continuing moratorium in favour of a creditor whose debt is governed by English law, so as to prevent that creditor from achieving a better return than that enjoyed by all of the company’s other creditors under a restructuring plan promulgated in the jurisdiction in which the company is registered and has its centre of main interests (“COMI”).

At 44 ff Hildyard J excellently summarises the rule, and the critical reception of it in recent scholarship, the latter suggesting it is not just out of touch with a less anglo-centric view of the world, but also inconsistent with the English courts themselves expecting foreign recognition of schemes of arrangement (SAs being of a corporate, not lex concursus nature but nevertheless fishing in the same waters as insolvency proceedings) conducted in the English courts with English law as the lex causae.

Having summed up all the arguments against the rule and yet recent continued application of it, Hildyard J at 58 dryly notes that his place in the hierarchy means that he cannot simply swipe the rule aside: he must apply it and simply assess whether it applies in the current circumstances. More particularly, whether at one and the same time the ‘rule’ may formally be observed by accepting the continuation of the rights which English law confers, and yet also the principles of modified universalism which the UNCITRAL Model Law gives effect to.

Lengthy discussion then follows of the pros and contras, with the High Court eventually finding no persuasive argument to set aside the rule, particularly not by the English application of the UNCITRAL model law. Counsel had argued that qualifying the model law as procedural as opposed to substantive law, would enable the Court effectively to sidestep Gibbs as precedent. However Hildyard J prefered to accept the full force of precedent rather than sweeping it aside by the procedural pretext.

The substantive rule clearly is ripe for reconsideration by the Court of Appeal.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.1.

 

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Prof Hess on Brexit and Lugano.

A concise note (I am currently tied up mostly in writing research grants. And and and… I hope to return to the blog in earnest later in the week) to signal prof Hess’ excellent short paper on Brexit and judicial co-operation. Prof Hess focuses on the possibility to use the Lugano Convention. (See here for a draft of Michiel Poesen’s overview). I agree that Lugano would not be a good route if one’s intention is to safeguard as much as possible co-ordination between the  UK’s common law approach to private international law, and the EU’s. Neither evidently if one aims to facilitate smooth cross-border proceedings.

Prof Hess has an interesting side consideration on schemes of arrangements. (Including reference to Apcoa). Again I agree that the English courts’ approach to same is not entirely without question marks (particularly jurisdictional issues in the event of opposing creditors: see here). I do not though believe that they would justify hesitation at the recognition and enforcement stage in continental Europe – even after Brexit. At least: not in all Member States. For of course post Brexit, UK judgments become those of a ‘third country’, for which, subject to progress at The Hague, we have no unified approach.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd edition 2016, Chapter 5.

 

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Algeco: Scheme of arrangements tourism continues, with tenacious questions still outstanding.

Thank you Tom Whitton and Helen Kavanagh  for flagging Algeco Scotsman PIK SA [2017] EWHC 2236 (Ch). Algeco has COMI in Luxembourg.  This was clear when the relevant scheme of arrangement (‘SAR’) was being discussed. To manage potential problems at the jurisdictional stage, Hildyard J at 22 lists the precautions the company and the majority of the lenders took:

‘Accepted by the relevant 75 per cent or more, was first, the amendment of the governing law clause in the PIK Loan Agreement to change the governing law from New York law to English law; secondly, the amendment of the jurisdiction clause to submit the parties to the non-exclusive jurisdiction to the courts of England; and thirdly, a waiver of any restrictions under the PIK loan agreement so as to permit the company to take all steps necessary to confirm or establish sufficient connection with England including, if appropriate, to take steps to ensure that its COMI is in England.’

When the unsuspected reader sees ‘COMI’ of course (s)he is forgiven for immediately pondering application of the EU’s Insolvency Regulation – quod certe non: for it is clear (ia as a result of schemes of arrangement not being included in relevant Annex) that SARs fall under company law. Hildyard J’s jurisdictional kick-off at 43 is telling: ‘Dealing first with jurisdiction, the primary question is whether this Luxembourg company, the subject of the scheme, is a qualifying company so to be subject to section 895 of the Companies Act’. Idem at 45.

At 47 the High Court then applies the jurisdictional test viz the Brussels I Recast Regulation arguendo: if it were to apply (which the English Courts have taken no definitive stance on), would an English court have jurisdiction? Yes, it is held: under Article 8 (anchor defendants) and under Article 25 (choice of court).

Yet this in my view is where recourse to SARS in the English courts continues to be exposed: loan agreements and facilities agreements now routinely adopt choice of court and law in favour of English courts and ditto law. Yet where they do not, or did not, the ‘willing’ creditors consent to a change in the agreement in favour of the English courts, with the unwilling creditors left behind. Whether this holds scrutiny under Rome I is far from certain. As for Article 8, its use here may be seen as a form of abuse, disciplined under the Regulation.

Hildyard J considers the case one of ‘good forum shopping’ (at 57-58), with reference to Apcoa which I review here. The concerns above continue in my view to highlight weaknesses in the construction, which so far have not led to any collapse of this restructuring tourism. At 58 the High Court emphasises that there are cases of inappropriate forum shopping in this context (one of that includes haste) yet the role of Rome I in this context has so far played little of a role.

It is noteworthy that in my view (and I so testified in re Apcoa) even a wrong view of the English courts on Rome I’s impact, would not suffice for jurisdictions outside of the UK to refuse to recognise the scheme under Brussels I – all with the huge Brexit caveat evidently.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd edition 2016, Chapter 5.

 

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Schemes of arrangement: No scheming, and no hastily arranging, please. The High Court adjourns hearing in Indah Kiat.

I have reported before on various schemes of arrangement which the English Courts gave the go-ahead even when they concerned non-English companies (I should flag that in two of those, Apcoa and Van Gansewinkel, I acted as expert). Thank you Arie van Hoe for bringing Indah Kiat to my attention some weeks ago.

Indah Kiat is a Dutch BV seeking an order convening a single meeting of its scheme creditors to consider and if thought fit approve a scheme of arrangement pursuant to Part 26 of the Companies Act 2006. The application is strenuously opposed by one of the Scheme Creditors, APP Investment Opportunity LLC (“APPIO”), which contests the jurisdiction of the court to entertain or sanction the Scheme. Such opposition is different from the other schemes which I mention in my previous postings.

In the first instance, APPIO simply seeks an adjournment of the Scheme Company’s application on the grounds that inadequate notice has been given to Scheme Creditors. However, it also raises a significant number of other issues concerning the adequacy of the evidence and disclosure by the Scheme Company, together with questions concerning the procedure and scope of the court’s jurisdiction to sanction creditor schemes for foreign companies in relation to debts governed by foreign law.

The Scheme Company is a special purpose vehicle which was incorporated for financing purposes in the Netherlands. It sought the COMI way to enable English courts to obtain jurisdiction over the scheme. English jurisdiction, required to carry out the Scheme, usually rests on either one of two legs: COMI, or making English law the governing law of the underlying credit agreements (if necessary by changing that governing law en route).

The COMI route to jurisdiction in many ways defies the proverbial impossibility of having one’s cake and eating it. For the establishment of a company’s centre of main interests, the courts and practice tend to refer to the EU’s Insolvency Regulation. Yet that schemes of arrangement do not fall under the Insolvency Regulation is a crucial part of the forum shopping involved in attracting restructuring advice to the English legal market. This is especially so for the aforementioned second route to jurisdiction (a change in governing law). however it is also true for the first form. Snowden J refers to that at para 85-86 of his judgment.

Indah Kiat has effected its change of COMI (rebutting the presumption of COMI being at its registered seat) by notifying its creditors via a number of clearing houses for the Notes concerned. APPIO contest that this notification sufficed for change in COMI. There are not enough relevant facts in the judgment to consider this objection thoroughly, however APPIO’s misgivings would not seem entirely implausible.

Snowden J notes that whilst protesting the jurisdiction, in the first instance APPIO simply seeks an adjournment of the convening hearing on the grounds that inadequate notice has been given of it to Scheme Creditors. It contends that given the complex nature of the Scheme and the factual background, there is no justification for an urgent hearing of the application. The Court agreed and the convening hearing (different from the sanction hearing, which follows later) was adjourned until 3 March. Snowden J further gave extensive argument obiter as to why the Scheme’s information was insufficient in the form as it stood at the hearing.

He then revisits (82 ff) the jurisdictional issue, which I have already signalled above: what role exactly COMI should play, how the Brussels I recast intervenes, what the impact is of likely recognition of the sanction (if any) in Indonesia, The Netherlands, and the US; and what if any role the relevant US judgments in the case should play: there will be plenty of points for discussion at the convening and sanction hearing. (I mentioned above that the convening hearing was scheduled around 3 March; I have not heard from the case since however if anyone has, please do let me know).

I do not think Indah Kiat has made the jurisdictional hurdle higher for Schemes of Arrangement involving foreign companies. Rather, the fierce opposition of an important creditor has brought jurisdictional issues into sharper perspective than had been the case before.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, Chapter 5, Heading 5.4.2).

 

 

 

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Apcoa scheme of arrangement: Convening hearing gives firm but considered go-ahead for English Scheme of Arrangement following change in governing law

Postscript January 2016 in Codere the High Court at an earlier stage had expressed its concern at the ‘extreme forum shopping going on (creating a special purpose vehicle with COMI in England but no prior connection to the territory) however for reasons expertly summarised by Iain White, Newey J eventually sanctioned. (The application was made by Codere Finance (UK) Ltd., an English incorporated subsidiary of Codere SA, a Spanish company. Codere SA is the ultimate parent of a group of companies that carries on business by way of gaming and similar activities in Latin America, Italy and Spain. Codere SA’s shares are listed on a number of Spanish stock exchanges).

Postscript July 2015 Forum shopping possibilities were further expanded in Van Gansewinkel, which had the additional peculiarity that the only territorial link with England was the establishment of (only) one creditor there.

Postcript 8 May 2015 in DTEK, a challenge was maded by one disgruntled creditor to the change of governing law from New York law to English law. However reportedly this challenge was withdrawn in the nick of time, leaving this point as far as I am aware at this stage unaddressed by the English courts. (Not that in my view that change ougt to be problematic). (Update 11 June: judgment is now available here).

Postscript 25 November 2014. Hildyard J’s judgment in both convening and sanction hearings was released 19 November 2014, with leave to appeal granted. (Hearing at the CA is scheduled for December 2014).

The title of this piece is as considered as Hildyard J’s approval of the application for an order to convene scheme meetings for the purpose of considering, and if thought fit approving, schemes of arrangement, nine in all, pursuant to Part 26 of the Companies Act 2006, in a scheme of arrangement relating to the Apcoa group of companies.

At the time of writing Bailii did not yet feature a transcript of the hearing however I have a copy for those interested. Hildyard J aptly lists the potential booby traps given the international context of the case (the Scheme Companies comprise two English incorporated companies, a holding company and another company incorporated in Germany, and five other subsidiaries incorporated elsewhere in Europe): jurisdiction under English private international law (not all companies having COMI in England); related to this, establishment of jurisdiction only following a change on governing law of the initial finance agreements, approved by a majority but not all creditors; and, as a related pre-condition to English approval, the likelihood of recognition and enforcement of the Scheme, once adopted, elsewhere in the EU.

The application to convene hearings was approved, justifiably. Schemes of arrangement are, arguably, excluded from the Insolvency Regulation. Recognition and enforcement much facilitated by the Brussels I Regulation. The one big sticky point in any future challenge is likely to be the change in governing law which enabled English jurisdiction in the first place. This was not sub judice in the current proceedings and the scheme at this stage is not opposed by any of the creditors.

Apcoa is not insolvent; it is being restructured. The case highlights the relevance of the ongoing amendments to the Insolvency Regulation. (At the time of writing waiting for first reading by Council; not likely to appear any time soon, given the European elections). The jury is out (and case-law increasing; see e.g. Zlomrex International) whether it would be better for Schemes of Arrangement to be included in the Annex to the Insolvency Regulation. In my view cover by Brussels I is much preferred.

No doubt to be continued.

Geert.

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