Recent news reports indicate that State Bank of India, India’s largest corporate lender has decided to invoke all outstanding personal and corporate guarantees in relation to companies undergoing Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process (‘CIRP’) under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code 2016 (‘IBC’).
The treatment of guarantees issued by and in favour of companies undergoing CIRP should be relatively straightforward under the IBC. But jurisprudence over the last few months in this context has introduced complexity. This note briefly sets out the key themes that have evolved so far.
Invocation of Guarantee issued by a corporate debtor after Insolvency Commencement Date (‘ICD’).
Courts (in the Edu Smart case and MBL case)[i] have held that invoking a guarantee issued by a corporate debtor after its ICD is analogous to foreclosing, recovering or enforcing any security interest in respect of the property of the corporate debtor, which is prohibited on account of the moratorium imposed under Section 14 of the IBC.
Submission of proof of claim for guarantees yet to be invoked
Courts (in the Edu Smart case and the Binani case)[ii] have held that a proof of claim can only be submitted for claims that have crystallized “i.e.,” are due and payable by the corporate debtor on the ICD. A guarantee claim will be considered due and payable only after due invocation under the terms of the contract. So effectively, if a guarantee issued by a corporate debtor has not been invoked before ICD, no proof of claim can be filed. As a result, the rights of such beneficiary post-resolution plan remains uncertain (for the beneficiary and the resolution applicant).
Guarantee issued by a third party (“e.g.,” promoter or group company of the corporate debtor) not undergoing CIRP not hit by moratorium
Some judgements (the Alpha & Omega case and the Schweitzer case)[iii] have indicated that enforcement of any security interest granted by a third party for the debts of the corporate debtor is not prohibited by the moratorium under Section 14 of the IBC, since the moratorium only applies to the security created in respect of the assets of the corporate debtor appearing on its balance sheet. Though these cases don’t explicitly deal with third party guarantees, the principal enunciated could easily be extended to guarantees as well inferring that invoking a third party guarantee after ICD would not be prohibited.
On second thoughts, (invoked) guarantee issued by a third party (“e.g.,” promoter or group company of the corporate debtor) not undergoing CIRP hit by moratorium
Somewhat contrary to the above, the Allahabad High Court (in the Sanjeev Shriya case)[iv] held that in an ongoing CIRP, the obligations of the corporate debtor are in a fluid state and have not been conclusively determined; and that therefore, till such time as the CIRP continues any guarantee given by the promoters of the corporate debtor cannot be enforced since the guarantor’s obligations cannot be established while the company’s obligations are in flux. For the record, the guarantee was invoked before ICD of the corporate debtor.
On further reflection, (invoked) guarantee issued by a third party (“e.g.,” promoter or group company of the corporate debtor) not undergoing CIRP hit by moratorium and cannot be used to start IBC proceedings against the issuer
In the recent Vista Steel case[v], a group company of a borrower had provided a guarantee to a financial creditor. This financial creditor also benefited from security provided by the borrower. There was an ongoing CIRP against the borrower/principal debtor. The financial creditor of the principal debtor (in CIRP) invoked the guarantee granted by the group company before the ICD of the principal debtor. The guarantor did not make payment under the invoked guarantee and so the creditor sought to invoke IBC proceedings against the guarantor (for crystallised debt). The court held that doing so would cause the guarantor to be subrogated to the rights of the secured financial creditor causing creation of a security interest over the assets of the borrower/principal debtor, violating the moratorium under Section 14 of the IBC. On this basis, the court denied the financial creditor from proceeding with the IBC application against the guarantor.
Where do we stand?
The principle set out by the Alpha & Omega case and the Schweitzer case was, in our view, the right way to approach the matter. Subsequent decisions have made it difficult for lenders to proceed simultaneously against guarantors and borrowers. This dilutes the usefulness of a guarantee for a lender and currently provides one of the few silver linings for promoters whose companies are in CIRP/IBC.
[i] Axis Bank Limited v. Edu Smart Services Private Limited NCLT, New Delhi October 27, 2017 and RBL Bank Limited v. MBL Infrastructures, NCLT Kolkata, December 18, 2017.
[ii] Axis Bank Limited v. Edu Smart Services Private Limited NCLT, New Delhi October 27, 2017 and Bank of Baroda v. Binani Cements Ltd., NCLT Kolkata, November 17, 2017.
[iii] Alpha & Omega Diagnostics (India) Ltd. v. Asset Reconstruction Company of India Ltd & Ors, NCLAT, New Delhi July 31, 2017 and Shweitzer Systemtek India Pvt. Ltd. v. Phoenix ARC Pvt. Ltd. & Ors, NCLAT, New Delhi, August 9, 2017.
[iv] Sanjeev Shriya v. State Bank of India, Allahabad High Court, September 6, 2017.
[v] ICICI Bank Limited v. Vista Steel Private Limited, NCLT Kolkata Bench, December 15, 2017