Asset recovery column: The mechanics of the UNCITRAL Model Law on Enterprise Group Insolvency

Sequor Law shareholder Leyza Blanco and attorney Raul Torrao in Miami discuss the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL)’s newly approved Model Law on Enterprise Group Insolvency.

Purpose

The model law, approved in July 2019, is a new legal framework designed to address domestic and cross-border insolvency cases involving multiple debtors that are members of the same enterprise group.

Though it provides innovative tools to address the specific needs of proceedings involving enterprise groups, its practical use will be revealed throughout the next years by its implementation and actual application by the courts of states that adopt the model law.

UNCITRAL developed the Model Law on Enterprise Group Insolvency to fill a void left by the 1997 Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency, with respect to the administration of multiple insolvency proceedings affecting different members of an enterprise group located in multiple jurisdictions. Indeed, in today’s global economy, the operations of the members of some enterprise groups are so interconnected and span so many  jurisdictions that the group can only be appropriately reorganised or liquidated if there is a plan that embraces the whole group – or at least the part of the group that is affected by the insolvency proceedings.

Both model laws provide for the cooperation of courts presiding over cross-border insolvency cases, although each applies in a different context. The Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency focuses on single debtor insolvency proceedings, while the Model Law on Enterprise Group Insolvency is designed to address the specific needs of insolvency proceedings that involve multiple debtors that are members of the same enterprise group in different jurisdictions.

Concepts

To address such specific needs, the Model Law on Enterprise Group Insolvency provides directives on coordination and cooperation between courts and among insolvency representatives, development of a group insolvency solution for the whole enterprise group or part of it in a single planning proceeding, appointment of a single representative to coordinate the development of a group insolvency solution, and voluntary participation of enterprise group members in the planning proceeding regardless of whether they are affected by the insolvency of part of the enterprise group.

It also includes directives on access by foreign courts and insolvency representatives to the planning proceeding, cross-border recognition of foreign planning proceedings, and measures to minimize the commencement of non-main and main proceedings through the equal treatment of claims in a foreign main proceeding in an adopting jurisdiction.

The Model Law on Enterprise Group Insolvency uses some nomenclature and definitions from the Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency, such as what is a main proceeding, a non-main proceeding, and the center of main interest (COMI) of a debtor. In addition, the Model Law on Enterprise Group Insolvency contains several articles similar to the Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency, especially in the chapters regarding the cooperation and coordination between courts and among insolvency representatives and in the chapters that provide for the recognition of a foreign proceeding.

Among the new concepts introduced by the Model Law on Enterprise Group Insolvency, the “group insolvency solution” is one of the most relevant ones. Article 2(f) of the model law broadly defines a group insolvency solution as “a proposal or set of proposals developed in a planning proceeding for the reorganization, sale or liquidation of some or all of the assets and operations of one or more enterprise group members, with the goal of protecting, preserving, realizing or enhancing the overall combined value of those enterprise group members.”

The draft guide of enactment of the model law clarifies that the term is intended to be a flexible concept, that can be tailored to address the specific circumstances of the enterprise group, such as its structure, business model, degree and type of integration between enterprise group members and other factors.

The group insolvency solution is developed in a “planning proceeding,” which is an insolvency proceeding commenced with respect to an enterprise group member that meets certain criteria. It must be a main proceeding taking place in the jurisdiction where an enterprise group member debtor has the COMI, in which the enterprise group member likely is a necessary and integral participant of the solution (although the concept is still undefined). It must include the voluntary participation of enterprise group members for the development of a group insolvency solution (although they may opt out at any point), and include the  appointment of a group representative, which may be the same person as the insolvency representative appointed in the main proceeding or a different person.

Once a planning proceeding is established, the group representative may seek relief from the court that is either needed to preserve the possibility of developing or implementing a group insolvency solution, or  to protect, preserve, realize, or enhance the value of assets of an enterprise group member subject to or participating in a planning proceeding or the interests of the creditors of such enterprise group member.

Relief

The model law provides for a non-exhaustive list of relief that are typically granted in insolvency proceedings. This includes empowering the group representative to seek recognition of the planning proceeding in other jurisdictions and seek any relief available to support the development and implementation of a group insolvency solution, as well as seek to participate in foreign proceedings relating to an enterprise group member regardless of whether the latter is participating in the planning proceeding.

Despite the model law’s aim to centralize an enterprise group’s insolvency proceeding, nothing in the model law prevents more than one planning proceeding from being established. Obviously, the immoderate commencement of multiple planning proceedings would destroy the purpose of having a centralized proceeding where all parties can meet and develop a group insolvency solution. However, the special circumstances driven by the way enterprise groups are structured might justify the exceptional establishment of more than one planning proceeding to obtain the proper insolvency solution for the group.

To aid its goal of centralizing and streamlining insolvency proceedings of members of an enterprise group, the model law also provides a mechanism to minimize the commencement of non-main proceedings in other jurisdictions. A creditor of any enterprise group member may choose to bring its claim directly in the main proceeding commenced in a jurisdiction that adopted the model law. The claim will be treated in the main proceeding in accordance with the treatment it would be accorded in its original jurisdiction; that is, the foreign claim will receive the same distribution and priority rights in the main proceeding as it would receive in its original jurisdiction.

To accomplish such treatment of claims, the claim treatment must: be presented by the insolvency representative appointed in the main proceeding – or jointly by the insolvency representative and the group representative; meet any additional formal requirements established by the jurisdiction of the main proceeding; and be approved by the court of the main proceeding. Once the claim treatment is approved, it is enforceable and binding on the insolvency estate of the main proceeding, this way protecting the creditor of the foreign claim.

In addition to the above described mechanism, the model law allows the court of the foreign forum where the creditor could have brought the aforementioned foreign claim to approve the treatment accorded in the main proceeding and to stay any non-main proceedings already commenced or to decline the commencement of new non-main proceedings. The effect of this implementation is that creditors of similar foreign claims may only file such foreign claims before the court of the main proceeding. This measure is not mandatory and it is the option of the court of the original jurisdiction of the foreign claim to use such tool.

The model law also provides for this undertaking on the treatment of foreign claims and the possibility of the court to stay or decline to commence a new insolvency proceeding also in relation to a main proceeding. In other words, creditors of a claim that may be brought in a main proceeding in one jurisdiction also have the option to file the claim in another main proceeding affecting one of the enterprise group members in another jurisdiction that adopted the model law, and courts of the first jurisdiction may approve the undertaking on the treatment of that claim and stay or decline to commence a main proceeding.

This measure is counter intuitive and is inconsistent with the expectations of creditors, the enterprise group members, and third parties that expect that insolvency proceedings should be conducted in the jurisdiction where the COMI of the enterprise group is located. Thus, the draft guide to enactment of the model law advises that such measure should only be taken in exceptional circumstances, specifically when the efficiency benefits largely outweigh the negative effects on the creditors’ expectations. The provisions that refer to minimizing the commencement of main proceedings are located in part B of the model law, and are available for adoption by jurisdictions that want to take this extra step on the centralization of cross-border insolvency proceedings.

It is important to note that the Model Law on Enterprise Group Insolvency is not a workaround from the formalities of the insolvency laws of the adopting jurisdiction. The fact that a planning proceeding may address the reorganization or liquidation of a participating enterprise group member does not grant unrestrictive access by creditors to the assets of that enterprise group member.

Under the model law, relief in the planning proceeding may not be granted with respect to the assets of participating enterprise group members if the entity is not subject to an insolvency proceeding under the forum’s applicable laws, unless the reason that such proceeding has not commenced was for the purpose of minimizing the commencement of insolvency proceedings in accordance with the Model Law. In addition, if the participating enterprise group member has its COMI in another jurisdiction, relief will only be granted in the jurisdiction that adopted the model law if it does not interfere with the administration of insolvency proceedings taking place in other jurisdictions.

Impact

The framework presented by the Model Law on Enterprise Group Insolvency not only creates new legal tools for specific insolvency cases, but also creates a new international cooperation system to enhance the insolvency proceedings of an enterprise group. Though issues regarding the jurisdiction and the power of courts may be minimized in a single-debtor cross-border insolvency case under the Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency, such issues are more prevalent when members of an enterprise group are subject to insolvency proceedings in different jurisdictions.

Indeed, in a multi-debtor cross-border insolvency case under the Model Law on Enterprise Group Insolvency, several issues regarding the jurisdictional power of the courts involved are likely to arise. This is because there are potentially multiple main proceedings, each located in a different jurisdiction, and only one – or a few – of them can be qualified as a planning proceeding for the development of a group solution, which will determinate the outcome of the insolvency proceedings.

It is unclear if the Model Law on Enterprise Group Insolvency’s cooperation system will only be useful if all jurisdictions involved have adopted its text. With regard to the Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency, generally only the jurisdiction of the court that is providing assistance to the foreign proceeding must have adopted it in order for that cooperation system to work.

On the other hand, the cooperation between courts of different jurisdictions in a group insolvency case might not work if one of the involved jurisdictions has not adopted the Model Law on Enterprise Group Insolvency. It is possible that jurisdictions that do not adopt provisions relating to centralized planning proceedings will be reluctant to defer their jurisdiction over an insolvency proceeding involving an enterprise group member to another jurisdiction.

Hopefully, jurisdictions will see the benefits of having a group insolvency solution for maintaining or adding value to the whole group, or even to the group members that are affected by the insolvency proceeding in that jurisdiction, and utilize the new tools provided by the new model law.

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