The fight for Essar Steel continued in the courts on Thursday with the two contenders, ArcelorMittal and Numetal, arguing over which bids should be valid — those in the first round or those in the second. Russia’s VTB Bank-led Numetal argued the resolution plans submitted in the second round of bidding should be considered and the highest bid be selected. ArcelorMittal, on the other hand, opposed the petition to allow the second round of bids to be opened, and said only the first round of bids should be considered.
ArcelorMittal is understood to have made an upfront offer of Rs 30,500 crore and pledged another Rs 8,000 crore in the form of capital infusion into Essar Steel. Mukul Rohatgi, counsel for Numetal, told the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) that Numetal has severed its association with Rewant Ruia, son of Essar Steel promoter Ravi Ruia, to become eligible to buy the steel company. Moreover, he said, it has also enhanced the bid amount to Rs 37,000 crore.
Rohatgi claimed that assessing the bids made in the second round would help realise the maximum value for the asset. Essar Steel owes financial creditors close to Rs 50,000 crore. The NCLAT will hear the case again on May 22. Bankers are likely to take a call on the matter once the NCLAT passes its order.
“The move by ArcelorMittal is positive, but there are other factors to be considered. We will take a decision once the NCLAT passes its order,” a banker, who is a member of the committee of creditors (CoC), said on conditions of anonymity. “ArcelorMittal has participated in the resolution process for Essar Steel in good faith from the start,” the company said in a written statement.
The statement added: “On 12th February we submitted a competitive offer to creditors which we understand was the superior offer received. Moreover, while we have always believed our offer was eligible, as a demonstration of our commitment to India and Essar Steel we have indicated to the Committee of Creditors our readiness to settle outstanding dues of companies where we only had a passive shareholding,” the company said in a written statement.
“We would hope that this very serious offer would be given appropriate consideration and that we will be identified as the preferred bidder for the asset. In our view, it is critical for the credibility of the IBC (Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code) that the process is followed fairly and correctly as originally laid out,” the company added.
Earlier this week, ArcelorMittal transferred Rs 7,000 crore into a State Bank of India escrow account for the payment of dues of Uttam Galva and KSS Petron, defaulter companies in which it had held large stakes, in an attempt to make its bid for Essar Steel eligible. However, the money will be released from the escrow account only if its bid for Essar Steel is recognised as the winning bid. Some bankers have questioned if depositing money into an escrow account is equivalent to repaying the dues, and whether this move makes ArcelorMittal’s bid eligible.
The Ahmedabad bench of the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT), in an order on April 19, had said that inviting a second round of bids without offering bidders an opportunity to rectify their bids was “prima facie invalid”. It had directed Essar Steel’s resolution professional (RP) Satish Kumar Gupta, and the CoC to reconsider the bids in the first round, and granted an additional 30 days for the resolution process. It had suggested that the two bidders be allowed an opportunity to rectify their bids to make them eligible.
Following the NCLT’s order, the RP had notified both the bidders that they would be given seven day’s time to clear all outstanding dues of companies in which they were promoters. Numetal challenged the CoC’s decision that both the bidders will have to repay existing debt to become eligible. It had also asked the NCLAT to consider the second round of bids.
Numetal had first approached the NCLAT challenging NCLT order that Essar Steel’s RP and the CoC will have to reconsider the first round of bids. ArcelorMittal moved the NCLAT challenging the disqualification of its first bid. ArcelorMittal’s first bid for the bankrupt Essar Steel was disqualified by the RP on the ground that it was a promoter of Uttam Galva and KSS Petron.
Numetal’s bid was disqualified since one of the persons associated with the company, Rewant Ruia, is related to the promoters of Essar Steel. The shareholders of Numetal include Russia’s VTB Bank and engineering firm Tyazhpromexport, financial investor Aurora Enterprises (in which Ruia has an interest) and commodity trading company Indo International Trading.