Extend-a-thon continues as VAs sweat on Solomons

Hall Chadwick partner Kathleen Vouris.
Hall Chadwick’s Richard Albarran.

It’s not often that a pair of administrators seek the court’s approval to extend a convening period with the excuse that they’re waiting for a foreign government to stump up a deed contribution that’ll make all debts disappear.

Hall Chadwick partners Richard Albarran and Kathleen Vouris however can lay claim to this rare distinction.

As administrators appointed to Orbis Commodities Pty Limited (Orbis) and Pacific Investment Holding Pty Limited (PIH) Albarran and Vouris have been sweating since the middle of last year on the Solomon Islands government to commit to participating in a deed of company arrangement (DoCA).

iNO’s sources indicate that the VAs are confident the Pacific Island nation’s leadership is willing but then, they could hardly turn up to court as they did on Monday seeking to extend again the deadline to convene the adjourned second meeting of creditors if they doubted that a deed could be done.

As Federal Court judge Kathleen Farrell pointed out to the VA’s barrister Andrew Fernon SC, “June 2022 is more than a year after the meeting was first convened and adjourned and that is getting very long”.

“Time has some relevance in all of this,” she told Fernon.

It does indeed and while iNO is not aware of what the record is for the most delayed second meeting of creditors, as previously reported, there are a number of players and elements injecting complexity into the affairs of this administration sufficient to ensure that the path to a second meeting is neither straightforward, or in accordance with the statutory timetable.

Worrells’ Christopher Darin.

Among those elements are Patrick Wong, a Malaysian-Chinese businessman with a long association with the Solomon Islands who in 2017 appointed Worrells Chris Darin as receiver over the assets of the companies in VA.

Those assets include substantial shareholdings in other companies which in turn own land in the Solomon Islands.

That land, as well as being in some areas littered with unexploded ordinance from World War II, is the subject of a dispute between the Islands’ central government, the local government of Malaita Province and a company in which Orbis and PIH have substantial shareholdings.

Grant Thornton has estimated the value of those shareholdings at almost $50 million, though we don’t know if that valuation assumes payment of an outstanding judgment debt the land owning company has against the central government.

What we do know is that the central authority has proposed a contribution to a potential DoCA that Albarran and Vouris have told the court would allow for payment of all creditors in full.

In fact the court heard that if the Government’s proposed contribution comes to pass there was even the possibility of a surplus which might flow to BPS REcovery’s David Sampson as trustee of the Orbis and PHP directors’ bankrupt estates.

Of course, the DoCa may also have implications for the dispute between the central government and the land owning company and between the central and provincial governments. And that’s not to forget the mysterious Mr Wong.

Excuses for the repeated delays however will start sounding thin if the VAs come before a court seeking another extension before the June deadline. And those excuses are not easily overcome.

One relates to the care Darin is exercising in dealing with notices to produce issued to him by Albarran and Vouris, who are seeking to understand what he’s been doing for almost five years.

On Monday the court heard that the Government of the Solomon Islands’ due diligence on the DoCA also includes gaining access to the same documentation. No wonder Darin’s being careful.

The political unrest and civil violence that’s besieged the government in the past six months is also a factor. And of course there’s that undoer of all arrangements and delayer of all deals, COVID 19.

Further reading:

Hall Chadwick Duo To Examine Worrells Partner

VAs And Receiver Battle Over Battlefields

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