Posts Tagged ‘“Canada”’
Tuesday, February 14th, 2012
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Canadian gold mining concern Crystallex International Corp. filed for protection under Canada’s Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) on Dec. 23, 2011. The company operates an open pit mine in Uruguay and three gold mines in Venezuela.
Among its Venezuelan projects is the 9,600-acre Las Cristinas mine. Court papers said the site’s untapped gold deposits are among the largest in the world, containing an estimated 20 million ounces of gold. Crystallex filed for Chapter 15 bankruptcy protection in Delaware on the same date to protect its US assets while seeking a Canadian restructuring. Delaware Bankruptcy Judge Peter Walsh granted recognition on January 20.
Crystallex’s financial troubles allegedly stem from the Venezuelan government’s threatened revocation of Crystallex’s operating agreement for the Las Cristinas project as a result of the company’s failure to obtain an environmental permit. Crystallex blames this failure on the Venezuelan government’s own continued failure to grant the permit.
The company continues to operate, but appears to be staking its restructuring hopes primarily on arbitration claims for $3.8 billion in alleged losses suffered in connection with the Las Cristinas agreement. Crystallex said it has invested more than C$500 million in the uncompleted Las Cristinas project. The company believes an arbitration award will provide sufficient funds to pay all its creditors in full while leaving value for the company’s shareholders.
Those creditors include secured lenders China Railway Resources Group (owed C$2.5 million) and Venezolano Bank about (owed $1 million). They also include $104.14 million in 9.34% senior unsecured notes the company issued on Dec. 23, 2004. Crystallex’s CCAA filing and its concurrent Chapter 15 petition were filed on the same date its notes matured.
Recently, the company sought to alleviate its immediate liquidity concerns by means of an auctioned DIP facility. Specifically, Crystallex sought a debtor-in-possession loan of C$35 million, convertible into an “exit facility.”
Crystallex reported to the US Bankruptcy Court that it was in receipt of multiple expressions of interest in such a facility. Meanwhile, pending the completion of due diligence and approval by the Canadian Court, Cyrstallex sought recognition of a much smaller C$3.125 million “bridge facility” from Tenor Special Situations Fund, L.P., which the Canadian Court approved January 20.
The bridge facility expires April 16, and required US Bankruptcy Court approval by February 20. Judge Walsh provided that approval at a hearing held yesterday.
Crystallex’s Chapter 15 proceeding is pending as Case No. 11-bk-14074.
Monday, October 4th, 2010
In April, this blog highlighted research done by Seton Hall‘s Stephen Lubben and York University‘s Stephanie Ben-Ishai on similarities and differences between asset sales conducted under the US Bankruptcy Code and those proceeding under the Canadian Companies Creditors’ Arrangement Act (“CCAA”).
Last week, the authors offered a revised version of their earlier work, available here. As noted by the authors’ abstract:
Ultimately, . . . questions of speed and certainty mark the biggest difference between [asset sales in the US and Canada], as the American approach [to asset sales] offers greater flexibility, which is apt to facilitate quicker . . . sales. However, . . . the Canadian approach also provides significant benefits, particularly in the realm of employee protection and the ability of the monitor to act as an independent check on quick sales proceedings. . . . [W]hile the American approach is advantageous in situations with exceptional time constraints, the Canadian approach under the . . . CCAA is more beneficial for a typical corporate reorganization, insofar as the role of the monitor and other limitations of the CCAA will prevent overuse of the quick sales process.
Monday, April 19th, 2010
International readers of this blog – and those in the US who practice internationally – are more than likely aware of the doctrine of “comity” embraced by US commercial law. In a nutshell, “comity” is shorthand for the idea that US courts typically afford respect and recogntion (i.e., enforcement) within the US to the judgment or decision of a non-US court – so long as that decision comports with those notions of “fundamental fairness” that are common to American jurisprudence.
In the bankruptcy context, “comity” forms the backbone for significant portions of the US Bankruptcy Code’s Chapter 15. Chapter 15 – enacted in 2005 – provides a mechanisim by which the administrators of non-US bankruptcy proceedings can obtain recogntion of those proceedings, and further protection and assistance for them, inside the US.
But in at least some US bankruptcy courts, “comity” for non-US insolvencies only goes so far. Last month, US Bankruptcy Judge Thomas Argesti, of Pennsylvania’s Western District, offered his understanding of where “comity” stops – and where US bankruptcy proceedings begin.
Judge Argesti currently presides over Chapter 15 proceedings commenced in furtherance of two companies – Canada’s Railpower Technologies Corp. (“Railpower Canada”) and its wholly-owned US subsidiary, Railpower US. The two Railpower entities commenced proceedings under the Canadian Companies Creditors’ Arrangement Act (“CCAA”) in Quebec in February 2009. Soon afterward, their court-appointed monitors, Ernst & Young, Inc., sought recogntition of the Canadian Railpower cases in the US.
Railpower US’ assets and employees – and 90% of its creditors – were located in the US. The company was managed from offices in Erie, PA. Nevertheless, it carried on its books an inter-company obligation of $66.9 million, owed to its Canadian parent. From the outset, Railpower US’ American creditors asserted this “intercompany debt” was, in fact, a contribution to equity which should be subordinate to their trade claims. Judge Argesti’s predecessor, now-retired Judge Warren Bentz, therefore conditioned recognition of Railpower US’ case upon his ability to review and approve any proposed distribution of Railpower US’ assets. After the company’s assets were sold, Judge Bentz further required segregation of the sale proceeds pending his authorization as to their distribution. Finally, after the Canadian monitors obtained a “Claims Process Order” for the resolution of claims in the CCAA proceedings and sought that order’s enforcement in the US, Judge Bentz further “carved out” jurisdiction for himself to adjudicate the inter-company claim if the trade creditors received anything less than a 100% distribution under the CCAA plan.
Railpower US’ assets were sold – along with the assets of its Canadian parent – to R.J. Corman Group, LLC. Railpower US was left with US$2 million in sale proceeds against US$9.3 million in claims (other than the inter-company debt). The Canadian monitor indicated its intention to file a “Notice of Disallowance” of the inter-company debt in the Canadian proceedings, but apparently never did. Meanwhile, approximately CN$700,000 was somehow “upstreamed” from Railpower US to Railpower Canada. Finally, despite the monitor’s assurances to the contrary, Railpower Canada’s largest shareholder – and an alleged secured creditor – sought relief in Quebec to throw both Railpower entities into liquidation proceedings under Canada’s Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act.
Enough was enough for Railpower US’ American creditors. In August 2009, they filed an involuntary Chapter 7 proceeding against Railpower US, seeking to regain control over the case – and Railpower US’ assets – under the auspices of an American panel trustee.
The Canadian monitor requested abstention under Section 305 of the Bankruptcy Code. Significantly re-drafted in the wake of Chapter 15’s enactment, that section permits a US bankruptcy court to dismiss a bankruptcy case, or to suspend bankruptcy proceedings, if doing so (1) would better serve the interests of the creditors and the debtor; or (2) would best serve the purposes of a recognized Chapter 15 case.
Judge Argesti’s 14-page decision, in which he denied the monitors’ motion and permitted the Chapter 7 case to proceed, is one of apparent first impression on this section where it regards a Chapter 15 case.
Where the “better interests of the creditors and the debtor” are concerned, Judge Argesti’s discussion essentially boils down to the proposition that because creditors representing 85% – by number and by dollar amount – of Railpower US’ case sought Chapter 7, those creditors have spoken for themselves as to what constitutes their “best interests” (“The Court starts with a presumption that these creditors have made a studied decision that their interests are best served by pursuing the involuntary Chapter 7 case rather than simply acquiescing in what happens in the Canadian [p]roceeding.”).
The more interesting aspect of the decision concerns Judge Argesti’s discussion of whether or not the requested dismissal “best serve[d] the purposes” of Railpower’s Chapter 15 cases. For guidance on this issue, Judge Argesti turned to Chapter 15’s statement of policy, set forth in Section 1501 (“Purpose and Scope of Application”) – which states Chapter 15’s purpose of furthering principles of comity and protecting the interests of all creditors. Then, proceeding point by point through each of the 5 enunciated principles behind the statute, he arrived at the conclusion that the purposes of Chapter 15 were not “best served” by dismissing the involuntary Chapter 7 case. As a result, Railpower US’ Chapter 7 case would be permitted to proceed.
Judge Argesti’s analysis appears to focus primarily on (i) the Canadian monitors’ apparent delay in seeking disallowance of the inter-company debt in Canada; (ii) the “upstreaming” of CN$700,000 to Railpower Canada; and (iii) the monitors’ apparent failure, as of the commencement of the involuntary Chapter 7, to “unwind” these transfers or to recover them from Railpower Canada for the benefit of Railpower US’ creditors. It also rests on the fact that Railpower US was – for all purposes – a US debtor, with its assets and creditors located primarily in the US.
In this context, and in response to the monitors’ protestations that comity entitled them to judicial deference regarding the Chapter 15 proceedings, Judge Argesti noted that:
comity is not just a one-way street. Just as this Court will defer to a [non-US] court if the circumstances require it, so too should a foreign court defer to this Court when appropriate. In this case it was clear from the start that [this Court] expressed reservations about the distribution of Railpower US assets in the Canadian [p]roceeding . . . . The Monitor has [not] explained how this [reservation] is to be [addressed] unless the Canadian Court shows comity to this Court.
Judge Argesti’s decision may be limited to its comparatively unique facts. However, it should also serve as a cautionary tale for representatives seeking to rely on principles of comity when administering business assets in the US. In addition to his more limited construction of “comity,” Judge Argesti also noted that recognition of Railpower US’ Chapter 15 case was itself subject to second-guessing where subsequently developed evidence suggested that the company’s “Center of Main Interests” was not in Canada, but in the US.
For anyone weighing strategy attendant to the American recognition of a non-US insolvency proceeding, this decision is important reading.
Monday, April 5th, 2010
A great deal of scholarly ink has been spilled over last year’s well-publicized sales of Chrysler and GM, each authorized outside a Chapter 11 plan. Some of that ink is available for review . . . here.
It’s worth noting that both Chrysler and GM have enjoyed a considerable presence in Canada. Indeed, the Canadian government participated in the automakers’ Chapter 11 cases. Yet their bankruptcy sales were not recognized under Canadian cross-border insolvency law, nor were Canadian insolvency proceedings ever initiated.
Seton Hall’s Stephen Lubben and York University’s Stephanie Ben-Ishai collaborated last month to offer an answer to that question. The essence of their article, “SALES OR PLANS: A COMPARATIVE ACCOUNT OF THE ‘NEW’ CORPORATE REORGANIZATION” comes down to two points of difference between the Canadian reorganization process and US Chapter 11 – speed and certainty – and is captured in the following excerpt:
[B]oth the United States and Canada have well-established case law that supports the “pre-plan” sale of a debtor’s assets. The key difference between the jurisdictions thus turns not on the basic procedures, but rather the broader context of those procedures . . . . [I]n the United States it is generally possible to sell a debtor’s assets distinct from any obligations or liabilities associated with those assets. Indeed, the only obligations that survive such a sale are those that the buyer willing[ly] accepts and those that must survive to comport with the U.S. Constitution’s requirements of due process.
[I]n Canada the debtor has less ability to “cleanse” assets through the sale process. Particularly with regard to employee claims, a pre-plan sale under the CCAA is not apt to be quite as “free and clear” as its American counterpart.
The jurisdictions also differ on the point at which the reorganization procedures – and the sale process – can be invoked. Canada, like most other jurisdictions, has an insolvency prerequisite for commencing [a reorganization] proceeding, whereas Chapter 11 does not. And the Canadian sale process is tied to the oversight of cases by the [court-appointed] monitor: without the monitor’s consent, it is unlikely that a Canadian court would approve a pre-plan asset sale. In the United States, on the other hand, there is no such position. Accordingly, a [US] debtor can seek almost immediate approval of a sale upon filing. Finally, there remains some doubt and conflicting case law in Canada about the use of the CCAA in circumstances that amount to liquidation, particularly following an asset sale. In the US, it is quite clear that Chapter 11 can be used for liquidation.
[T]hese latter factors are the more likely explanations for the failure to use the CCAA in [GM’s and Chrysler’s] cases . . . . [I]t is the questions of speed and certainty that mark the biggest difference between the two jurisdictions . . . . In the case of GM and Chrysler, where the governments valued speed above all else, these issues came to the fore.
The article offers a very interesting perspective on the strategic use of specific insolvency features of different jurisdictions to effect cross-border bankruptcy sales, and is well worth the read.
Tuesday, March 9th, 2010
JSC BTA Bank – A recent post appearing here discussed JSC BTA Bank (BTA)’s petition for recognition in the Southern District of New York’s U.S. Bankruptcy Court. BTA, reportedly Khazakstan’s second-largest bank, sought recognition of its state-sponsored restructuring in Khazakstan as a “foreign main proceeding.” On March 2, Judge James Peck in Manhattan granted the bank’s request. A copy of Judge Peck’s ruling is available here.
White Birch Paper Co. – The second-largest newsprint company in North America – Greenwich, Conn.’s White Birch Paper – followed the largest (Montreal’s AbitibiBowater Inc.), into bankruptcy in both Canada and the US on February 24.
White Birch and 10 affiliates, which together operate paper mills in Gatineau, Quebec; Riviere-du-Loup, Quebec; and Quebec City filed their request for protection under the Canadian Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act in Montreal, and a concurrent request for recognition of 6 of those proceedings in Virginia’s Eastern District before Chief Bankruptcy Judge Douglas O. Tice, Jr. They were joined by US affiliate Bear Island Paper Co. of Ashland, which sought protection under Chapter 11.
Pleadings filed in White Birch’s cases claim that the companies controlled approximately 12% of the North American newsprint market as of last December. The filings were triggered by the continued shift from print to digital media and the attendant decline in revenues. In addition, the widening spread between the Canadian and US currencies also hurt operations, as payables are frequently accepted in US dollars, while expenses are paid in Canadian dollars. Finally, the companies’ operational woes were compounded by the burden of a January 2008 purchase of SP Newsprint Co. for approximately $350 million.
Cost-cutting efforts commenced in late 2009 were not sufficient to prevent White Birch’s default on first- and second-lien credit facilities. Attempts to restructure the debt out of court were likewise unsuccessful. Judge Tice’s Order granting recognition and entering a preliminary injunction was entered yesterday.
JSC Alliance Bank – Khazakstan’s sixth-largest bank followed BTA’s lead, seeking similar recognition in Manhattan’s Southern District less than 2 weeks after the larger Kazakh institution did so.
Like BTA, Alliance sought relief from creditors and litigation in the US while it restructures itself out of debt defaults and liquidity problems arising, in part, from its need to foreclose on bad loans and its subsequent difficulty selling foreclosed assets. In its papers, Alliance claims that last December, it obtained approval for a restructuring plan from creditors holding more than 94 percent of its claims.
Mega Brands Inc. – Toymaker Mega Brands has sought recognition in Delaware before Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Sontchi for its Canadian restructuring, commenced in mid-February before the Superior Court of Quebec in Montreal.
The global supplier of construction toys, stationery and other children’s toys and activity instruments plans to implement a global restructuring, which is reportedly supported by more than 70% of the company’s secured debt holders and all of its debenture holders – and on which lenders and shareholders will vote on March 16. In pleadings submitted with the petition, the company blames its need to restructure on the downturn in global demand, resulting stagnation in the North American toy industry, and fluctuations in raw materials prices.
Japan Airlines – On January 19, Japan Airlines (JAL), Asia’s largest airline, sought Chapter 15 protection in New York in furtherance of its reorganization in the Tokyo District Court under Japan’s Corporate Reorganization Act. Bankruptcy Judge James Peck – the same judge presiding over BTA Bank’s Chapter 15 proceeding (see above) – recognized the Japanese proceeding in mid-February. According to JAL’s Court pleadings, US assets protected by the Chapter 15 recognition order include aircraft and real estate interests in New York and Los Angeles. Judge Peck’s Order granting JAL’s recognition is here.
Monday, February 15th, 2010
A brief update on Stanford (earlier posts are available here):
Evidentiary hearings scheduled for late January in the ongoing struggle for control over the financial assets of Stanford International Bank, Ltd. (SIB), the cornerstone of Allen Stanford’s financial-empire-turned-Ponzi-scheme, were cancelled by presiding US District Court Judge David Godbey.
As readers of this blog are aware, Antiguan liquidators Peter Wastell and Nigel Hamilton-Smith’s efforts to obtain recognition in the US for their Antiguan wind-up of SIB, and US receiver Ralph Janvey’s competing efforts to do the same in Canadian and UK courts, were to culminate in a hearing set for late last month. But shortly after a scheduled status conference on pre-hearing matters, the evidentiary was cancelled.
Recent reporting by Reuters (available here) may provide a reason for the change: Reuters reported on February 5 that the liquidators and Mr. Janvey may, in fact, be settling. According to staff writer Anna Driver, a dispute over $370 million in assets traced to Stanford, as well as $200 million located in Switzerland and the UK, are driving the parties toward a deal.
But there may be other pressures as well. The Associated Press reported (here) that last Thursday, Judge Godbey indicated his intent to rule on a request by third-party investors to commence their own involuntary bankruptcy filing, thereby replacing Mr. Janvey as a receiver.
Monday, January 25th, 2010
From New York’s Southern District comes the strange tale of the Canadian asset backed commercial paper market, and a decision that raises the question of whether foreign courts provide a possible strategic “end run” around US law for parties doing business in the US – and even for US litigants with a business presence overseas.
Collapse of the Canadian Asset Backed Commercial Paper Market
Asset backed commercial paper (ABCP) is a Canadian short-term investment with a low interest yield. Generally marketed as a “safe” investment, ABCP is considered “asset backed” because the cash used to purchase these notes goes to create a portfolio of financial or other assets, which are then security for repayment of the originally issued paper. In flush times, ABCPs were typically paid off with the proceeds from the purchase of new paper – or simply rolled over into new paper purchases themselves.
But times did not stay flush.
By 2007, ABCPs were collateralized by everything from auto loans to residential mortgages – which, unlike the “short-term” paper they backed, had much longer maturities. With the rapidly-cresting economic downturn, uncertainty began to ripple through the ABCP market by mid-2007. Because ABCPs were not transparent investments and investors could not determine which assets backed their paper, the uncertainty soon grew into a full-scale liquidity crisis.
The Big Freeze – And The Planned Thaw
In August 2007, approximately CAN$32 billion of non-bank sponsored ABCP in the Canadian market was frozen after an agreement between the major market participants. This “freeze” was implemented pending an attempt to resolve the crisis through a restructuring of the market. A “Pan-Canadian Investors Committee” was created, which introduced a creditor-initiated Plan of Compromise and Arrangement under the Canadian Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA). The Plan was sanctioned in June 2008 in the Metcalfe cases. Essentially, the Plan converted the noteholders’ frozen paper into new, long-term notes with a discounted face value that could be traded freely, in the hope that a strong secondary market for the notes would emerge in the long run.
Releases for Third Parties
Part of the Plan required that market participants, including banks, dealers, noteholders, asset providers, issuer trustees, and liquidity providers be released from any liability related to ABCP, with the exception of certain narrow fraud claims. Among those receiving these releases were Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, HSBC Bank USA, Merrill Lynch International, UBS, and Wachovia Bank and their respective affiliates.
These third party releases were themselves the subject of appellate litigation in Canada, but were eventually upheld as within the ambit of the CCAA. The Plan became effective in January 2009, and the court-appointed monitors (Ernst & Young, Inc.) sought US recognition of the Metcalfe cases in New York the following October. More specifically, the monitors sought enforcement in the US of the third-party releases which were a centerpiece of the Canadian Plan.
Third-party releases of non-bankrupt parties are significantly limited under US bankruptcy law – and, in a number of circuits, prohibited altogether. In the 2d Circuit – where the recognition cases are pending – they are permissible only where (i) “truly unusual circumstances render the release terms important to the success of the plan;” and (ii) the released claims “directly affect the res (i.e., the property) of the bankruptcy estate.” In Bankruptcy Judge Martin Glenn’s view, the Canadian releases went a bit further than what the 2d Circuit would otherwise permit. Nevertheless, Ernst & Young asked Judge Glenn to permit them.
Recognition and Enforcement In the US
Ernst & Young’s request was based, first, on Section 1509, which requires that if a US Bankruptcy Court grants recognition in a foreign main proceeding, it “shall grant comity or cooperation to the foreign representative.” Moreover, where recognition is granted, the US court “may provide additional assistance to [the] foreign representative” (Section 1507(a)), provided that such assistance is “consistent with the principles of comity” and serves one or more articulated policy goals set forth in Section 1507(b). The decision to provide such assistance “is largely discretionary and turns on subjective factors that embody principles of comity.” It is also subject to a general but narrowly construed “public policy” restriction in Section 1506.
Though it is given prominence in Chapter 15, the American concept of “comity” in fact grows out of many decades of US commercial experience: Over a century ago, the emerging freedom of markets, comparatively few limits on imports, exports, immigration and exchanges of information and capital flows gave rise to what has been termed as the “first age of globalization.” In keeping with the spirit of that age, US courts of the period sought to resolve commercial disputes involving international litigants in a manner that would facilitate free international trade. They did so by preserving, where possible, the sanctity of rulings rendered in foreign tribunals as those rulings pertained to US citizens involved in foreign transactions. Those efforts found their expression through application of the case law doctrine of “comity.”
As expressed long ago by the US Supreme Court, “comity” is that “recognition which one nation allows within its territory to the legislative, executive or judicial acts of another nation.” As described by more modern precedent, US courts will recognize the “[a]cts of foreign governments purporting to have extraterritorial effect” when those acts are consistent with US law and policy.
It is worth noting that “consistent with US law and policy” does not mean identical with US law and policy. As Judge Glenn observed, “[t]he relief granted in the foreign proceeding and the relief available in a [US] proceeding need not be identical.” Instead, the “key determination” is “whether the procedures used in [the foreign court] meet [US] fundamental standards of fairness.”
“Fundamental standards of fairness” are understandably vague, and – beyond the basic idea of due process – often difficult to establish. In this case, Judge Glenn essentially found that though the releases in question likely went beyond what would pass muster under US law, third party releases weren’t completely unheard of – and besides, the decision of a Canadian court of competent jurisdiction should be entitled to recognition as a matter of comity in any event.
What It All Means
The Metcalfe decision is interesting. One one hand, it seems to provide merely another example of the well-recognized fact that Canadian judgments are routinely upheld by US courts. However, it also suggests that parties with access to foreign tribunals with insolvency schemes resembling the US, but providing relief somewhat different from (i.e., more favorable to) that available under US insolvency law, may be able to maneuver around US law by filing a “main [insolvency] case” in a foreign jurisdiction, then seeking recognition and enforcement of that relief in the US – on the basis of comity.
Something to think about.
Monday, January 4th, 2010
Evidentiary hearings are scheduled for later this month in the ongoing struggle for control over the financial assets of Stanford International Bank, Ltd. (SIB), the cornerstone of Allen Stanford’s financial-empire-turned-Ponzi-scheme. A series of posts on this blog have covered liquidators Peter Wastell and Nigel Hamilton-Smith’s efforts to obtain recognition in the US for their Antiguan wind-up of SIB, and US receiver Ralph Janvey’s competing efforts to do the same in Canadian and UK courts.
The Stanford case is of considerable significance in the US – and in the UK and Canada, where it has spawned at least two decisions and related appeals over the parties’ efforts to obtain cross-border recognition for their respective efforts to clean up the Stanford mess.
In Dallas, Texas, where an enforcement action commenced by the American Securities and Exchange Commission remains pending (and where Mr. Janvey has been appointed as a receiver for the purposes of marshalling Stanford assets for distribution to creditors), US District Court Judge David Godbey has taken prior pleadings from both sides under advisement and, in advance of this month’s hearing, has requested further briefing on three issues. Mr. Janvey’s brief, submitted last week, addresses each of these as follows:
The Current State of Fifth Circuit Law on What Constitutes an Entity’s “Principal Place of Business,” Including Whether Stanford International Bank’s (“SIB”) Activities Were Active, Passive or “Far Flung.”
The Liquidators have argued that, under applicable Fifth Circuit standards, SIB’s “principal place of business” was Antigua and that its activities were actively managed from Antigua, and were not “far flung” so as to render SIB’s Antiguan location irrelevant.
Predictably enough, Mr. Janvey responds that under appropriate circumstances, the Fifth Circuit applies principles of alter ego and disregards corporate formalities in determining an entity’s “principal place of business:” “The Fifth Circuit applies alter ego doctrines not only to enforce liability against shareholders and parent companies, but also to determine a corporation’s ‘principal place of business’ for jurisdictional purposes.” (citing Freeman v. Nw. Acceptance Corp., 754 F.2d 553, 558 (5th Cir. 1985)).
Based on this construction of Fifth Circuit law – and because COMI is generally equated to an entity’s “principal place of business” under US corporate law – Janvey then argues that consistency and logic require the same rules be followed for COMI purposes. He then goes on to argue that Stanford’s Ponzi scheme activities were “far flung,” that SIB’s Antiguan operations were “passive,” and that its “nerve center” and “place of activity” were both in the U.S.
The Relationship Between SIB and the Financial Advisors Who Marketed SIB’s CDs to Potential Investors.
Wastell and Hamilton-Smith have argued that financial advisors who sold SIB’s CDs to potential investors were, in fact, independent agents employed by other, independent Stanford broker-dealer entities and were not controlled by SIB.
Mr. Janvey pours scorn on this argument. According to him, it does not matter that there were inter-company “contracts” purporting to make the Stanford broker-dealer entities agents for SIB in the sale of CDs. As Mr. Janvey views it, a fraud is a fraud . . . from beginning to end. Consequently, there was no substance to the “contracts” as all the entities involved were instruments of Stanford’s fraud.
The “Single Business Enterprise” Concept as Part of the “Alter Ego” Theory of Imposing Liability.
As noted above, Mr. Janvey takes the position that “alter ego” treatment of the Stanford entities is not only viable – it is the only appropriate means of treating SIB’s relationship to other, US-based Stanford entities, and of determining COMI for SIB. He argues further that substantive consolidation – the bankruptcy remedy referred to by Messr’s. Wastell and Hamilton-Smith – can be just as effectively accomplished through a federal receivership, which affords US District Courts significant latitude in fashioning equitable remedies and determining distributions to various classes of creditors.
Mr. Janvey’s argument appears quite straightforward. Because a fraud is a fraud, geography matters very little in determining its “center of main interests.” According to him, what should count instead is the location of the fraudsters and the place from which the fraud was managed and directed. Yet even Mr. Janvey acknowledges that “Antigua played a role in [Stanford’s Ponzi] scheme . . . [in that] [Antigua] was where Stanford could buy off key officials in order to conduct his sham business without regulatory interference.” In other words, geography was important . . . at least for Stanford. Specifically, geography provided Stanford direct access to a corrupt regulator who would afford cover for the conduct of Stanford’s fraudulent CD sales to investors.
Mr. Janvey addresses this potential problem by taking aim at the entire Antiguan regulatory structure:
“Chapter 15 contains a public policy exception: ‘Nothing in the chapter prevents the court from refusing to take an action governed by this chapter if the action would be manifestly contrary to the public policy of the United States.’ 11 U.S.C. § 1506. The facts warrant application of the public policy exception here. The very agency that first appointed the Antiguan [l]iquidators and then obtained their confirmation from the Antiguan court was complicit in Stanford’s fraud. That same agency has allowed financial fraud to flourish on Antigua for decades. It would be contrary to public policy for this Court to cede to Antigua the winding up of a company that bilked Americans and others out of billions when it was Antigua that permitted the fraud.”
Mr. Janvey then goes further still, arguing that Messr’s. Wastell and Hamilton-Smith (and their employer, British-based Vantis plc) are precluded by Antiguan law from complying with the disclosure requirements Judge Godbey has imposed on the US receivership – and therefore simply unable to concurrently administer a “main case” in Antigua and cooperate with the Receiver (or with the District Court) in the US.
Finally, Mr. Janvey gets directly personal: He recites the opinion of the Canadian court that revoked Vantis’ administration of Stanford’s Canadian operations and refused recognition of the Antiguan wind-up on the grounds that “Vantis’ conduct, through [Messr’s. Wastell and Hamiton-Smith], disqualifies it from acting and precludes it from presenting the motion [for Canadian recognition], as [Vantis] cannot be trusted by the [Canadian] Court . . . .” The Canadian court’s opinion has been upheld on appeal, and is now final.
In a nutshell, Mr. Janvey argues that geography shouldn’t matter where a fraud is concerned . . . but if it does matter, it ought to count against jurisdictions such as Antigua, an “impoverished island” which has a population “about 80% that of Waco, Texas” and a history of financial fraud.
As is sometimes said in Texas, “Them’s fightin’ words.”
The SEC’s brief, like Mr. Janvey’s, is also on file. Messr’s. Wastell and Hamilton-Smith’s reply will be due shortly.
Monday, December 14th, 2009
An update regarding Peter Wastell and Nigel Hamilton-Smith’s dispute with federal Receiver Ralph Janvey over control of Stanford International Bank Ltd. (SIB)’s financial assets, and the 13th in a series on this blog covering the dissolution of Allen Stanford’s erstwhile financial empire and alleged international “Ponzi scheme” – a dissolution playing out in Montreal, London, and Dallas.
Wastell and Hamilton-Smith, liquidators appointed by Antiguan regulators for the purpose of winding up SIB in Antigua, and Janvey – a federal Receiver appointed at the behest of the US Securities and Exchange Commission to oversee the dissolution of Stanford’s financial interests in connection with an enforcement proceeding in the US – have sought recognition of their respective efforts in courts outside their home jurisdictions. Each has met with mixed results: Janvey’s request for recognition was denied in the UK, while Wastell and Hamilton-Smith, originally recognized in Canada, have been removed and replaced by a Canadian firm. Each of these results has been appealed.
Meanwhile, Wastell and Hamilton-Smith have sought recognition of the Antiguan wind-up in Janvey’s home court pursuant to Chapter 15 of the US Bankruptcy Code. Initial briefing was submitted several months ago; supplemental filings (including copies of the decisions rendered in London and Montreal) have been trickling in. US District Court Judge David Godbey has set an evidentiary hearing for mid-January 2010.
Messr’s. Wastell and Hamilton-Smith’s supplemental brief, filed last week in Dallas, addresses three issues, apparently raised by Judge Godbey during a recent conference call with the parties:
The Current State of Fifth Circuit Law on What Constitutes an Entity’s “Principal Place of Business,” Including Whether Stanford International Bank’s (“SIB”) Activities Were Active, Passive or “Far Flung.”
The liquidators acknowledge that while Chapter 15 of the US Bankruptcy Code doesn’t refer to an entity’s “principal place of business” in dealing with a cross-border insolvency, many US courts nevertheless analogize an entity’s “principal place of business” to its “center of main interests” (COMI) for purposes of determining the forum that should host the “main case.” The American approach is, according to the liquidators, similar to that followed by European courts.
That said, what constitutes an entity’s “principal place of business” is not a settled question under US federal case law: The Fifth Circuit (where the Stanford matters are pending) applies a “total activity” test, which is also applied by the Sixth, Eighth, Tenth and Eleventh Circuits, whereas the Ninth Circuit applies a “place of operations” test, the Seventh Circuit applies a “nerve center” test, and the Third Circuit examines the corporation’s center of activity. The liquidators suggest in a footnote that these “varying verbal formulas” are functional equivalents, and “generally amount to about the same thing” under nearly any given set of facts.
A significant portion of the liquidators’ brief is devoted to applying the facts of SIB’s dissolution to the Fifth Circuit’s “verbal formula;” i.e., “(1) when considering a corporation whose operations are far-flung, the sole nerve center of that corporation is more significant in determining principal place of business, (2) when a corporation has its sole operation in one state and executive offices in another, the place of activity is regarded as more significant, but (3) when the activity of a corporation is passive and the ‘brain’ of that corporation is in another state, the situs of the corporation’s brain is given greater significance.” See J.A. Olson Co. v. City of Winona, 818 F.2d 401, 411 (5th Cir. 1987).
The liquidators argue:
– SIB’s principal place of business was in Antigua;
– SIB’s activities were neither “passive” nor “far flung” and thus the “nerve center” test should not predominate; but
– even if SIB’s operations were passive or far flung (which they were not), its “nerve center” was in Antigua.
The Relationship Between SIB and the Financial Advisors Who Marketed SIB’s CDs to Potential Investors.
The liquidators are emphatic that financial advisors who marketed and sold SIB’s CD’s to potential investors were not, in fact, agents of SIB. Rather, “they operated individually under management agreements with SIB, or were employed by other Stanford companies which had management agreements with SIB . . . . These advisors worked for Stanford related entities all over the world, including Antigua, Aruba, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Switzerland, and Venezuela, as well as in the United States . . . . All of the financial advisors marketed the CDs but none had authority to contract on behalf of SIB . . . . Further, Liquidators understand that the financial advisors sold other Stanford-related products besides SIB CDs.” Those advisors who were located in the US ‘worked for an entity called the Stanford Group Companies (“SGC”), and though they marketed SIB CDs to potential depositors, they were not agents of SIB.'”
Put succinctly, the liquidators’ argument is that an international network of independent sales agents does not create the sort of “agency” that would alter cross-border COMI analysis under US law: “[US] Courts analyzing similar circumstances have consistently held that a company’s COMI or its principal place of business is in the jurisdiction where its operations are conducted even if the company has sales representatives in other jurisdictions.”
The “Single Business Enterprise” Concept as Part of the “Alter Ego” Theory of Imposing Liability.
Finally, the liquidators argue that SIB is neither part of a “single business enterprise” nor an “alter ego” of other Stanford entities or of Stanford’s senior managers – and their respective “principal place[s] of business” in the US cannot be imputed to SIB for purposes of determining SIB’s COMI. This is so, according to Messr’s. Wastell and Hamilton-Smith, because:
– The doctrine of “single business enterprise” liability is a particular creature of Texas law – which, in addition to being inapplicable to an Antiguan-chartered international bank such as SIB, is itself no longer viable even in Texas. See SSP Partners v. Gladstrong Invs. (USA) Corp., 275 S.W.3d 444, 456(Tex. 2008) (rejecting the theory because Texas law does not “support the imposition of one corporation’s obligations on another” as permitted by the theory); see also Acceptance Indemn. Ins. Co. v. Maltez, No. 08-20288, 2009 WL 2748201, at *5 (5th Cir. June 30, 2009) (unpublished) (recognizing the holding of Gladstrong).
– The doctrine of “alter ego” does not apply because its primary use is to permit corporate creditors to “pierce the corporate veil” and seek recourse from the corporation’s parent or individual shareholders. Here, the liquidators argue, Mr. Janvey is attempting to pierce the corporate veil in the opposite direction: He is attempting to permit creditors of a corporate parent or individual principals to seek recourse from a distinct and separate foreign subsidiary. Such “reverse veil piercing” is properly obtained (if at all) through the “extreme and unsual” remedy of substantive consolidation through bankruptcy. However, liquidation of the Stanford entities through a federal bankruptcy proceeding is something Mr. Janvey has, to date, “studiously avoided.”
– The equitable purposes of the “alter ego” doctrine would be frustrated in this case. The “injustice” that “alter ego” relief is designed to reverse would, in fact, only be furthered where SIB investors would see their recoveries diluted by creditors of other Stanford entities.
Mr. Janvey’s response is due December 17.
Monday, October 5th, 2009
After a blazing start during the first half of 2009, it was a longer, slower summer for newsworthy Chapter 15 filings. The last 3 months have produced a handful of new cases, including:
– Stomp Pork – The Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based pig-farm operator sought Chapter 15 protection in Iowa’s Northern District on May 29 after being placed into receivership the same day under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act in the Court of the Queen’s Bench, Judicial Centre of Saskatoon. It was the company’s second trip to bankruptcy court after a prior, 2008 reorganization under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act.
The company’s Candian receiver, Ernst & Young Inc., planned to liquidate the company’s assets and distribute the proceeds to its creditors. Prior to seeking protection in the US, the company received approval from the Candian court to sell its 130,000 pigs to Sheldon, Ohio-based G&D Pork LLC for $2.8 million. Of these proceeds, creditor National Bank reportedly received $2.7 million.
The filing was made in an abundance of caution, but ultimately proved unnecessary: Following the sale and the distribution of proceeds, the debtor obtained a dismissal of the recognition petition on the grounds that no further assets remained for the Iowa Bankruptcy Court to protect.
– Sky Power Corp. – The Toronto-based developer of solar and wind-powered energy projects in Canada, the US, India and Panama (and portfolio company of bankrupt Lehman Brothers) sought protection in Delaware in August, seven days after seeking protection under Canada’s Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
The company characterized its bankruptcy as part of a “domino effect” created by Lehman’s bankruptcy (Lehman was the major shareholder), as well as on reduced liquidity and on defaults triggered with respect to its senior debt by Lehman’s filing.
At the time of the filing, the company was reportedly relying on a $15 million DIP financing commitment from CIM Group Inc. for liquidity. The facility was priced at prime plus 875 basis points (prime is given a 3.5% floor), matures November 30, and permits CIM Group to credit bid the DIP obligation toward a purchase of SkyPower.
Judge Peter Walsh entered a recognition order on September 15.
– Daewoo Logistics Corp. – The Seoul, Korea-based shipping company sought protection in New York in mid-September to protect US-based assets from the immediate effects of an adverse arbitration ruling.
In addition to the award – obtained by Saga Forest Carriers International for $609,638 in New York’s Southern District – the company also faced 12 other actions, including five others pending in New York.
The company had previously sought creditors’ protection under the Republic of Korea’s Debtor Rehabilitation and Bankruptcy Act with the 8th Bankruptcy Division of the Seoul Central District Court. The Korean filing was allegedly a result of plummeting profits stemming from a decline in the market value of dry bulk shipping contracts. The company also identified a failed land purchase in Madagascar, which was disrupted by a military coup in that country, as a source of financial stress.
Bankruptcy Judge Burton Lifland granted a preliminary injunction on September 24.