Solyndra backers could reap $341 million in tax breaks

Sept 4 Tue Sep 4, 2012 9:56pm EDT

Sept 4 (Reuters) - Investment funds that were early backers of Solyndra LLC stand to reap up to $341 million in tax breaks from its bankruptcy, according to court documents filed on Tuesday, a prospect that could add fuel to the political firestorm around the failed solar panel maker.

The U.S. government, which lent Solyndra $528 million and may never recover the money, had demanded that the company reveal the value of future tax breaks available to Madrone Partners and Argonaut Ventures, a fund which is controlled by a foundation linked to Democratic fundraiser George Kaiser.

News of possible tax breaks for investors with ties to the Democratic Party could spark a new round of Republican attacks on the Obama administration for its decision to back Solyndra.

In the run-up to the November elections, Republicans have accused the White House of rushing the loan to the company under a program to support clean energy companies. The Democratic administration has said the loan was based on the merits of Solyndra's business prospects.

The two funds plan to bring Solyndra's holding company out of bankruptcy and the potential tax breaks appear to be the main asset, according to documents filed with the U.S. bankruptcy court in Wilmington, Delaware.

The court documents also said the tax breaks could ultimately be worth very little and the company's bankruptcy plan still has to be voted on by creditors and approved by a judge.

In contrast to the two funds, Solyndra has said in previous court documents that the U.S. government may get very little back on its loan to Solyndra.

The tax break stems from what are known as net operating losses, which allow a company to use past losses to cut its tax bill on future earnings.

Solyndra's holding company piled up nearly $1 billion in losses since the company started to make its innovative solar panels in 2007.

The court documents did not say what Argonaut and Madrone will do with the holding company once it exits bankruptcy. But it could follow the path taken out of bankruptcy by the remnants of Washington Mutual Inc.

WaMu's holding company is considering buying companies using a $125 million credit line. If those investments turn out to be profitable, the holding company can cut its tax bill using tax breaks it retained through its bankruptcy.

Argonaut and Madrone were among the biggest investors in Solyndra. Argonaut invested more than $200 million in the company's stock according to an initial public offering prospectus filed in 2010. The company never went public and Argonaut also made separate loans to Solyndra that totalled a combined $125 million, according to IPO and court documents.

Renzi Stone, a spokesman for Argonaut, declined to comment. Madrone and Solyndra's attorney did not immediately respond to requests for a comment.

The disclosure of the tax breaks stems from U.S. government's objection to Solyndra's disclosure statement, a document that must be approved by a bankruptcy judge before the company can ask creditors to approve its repayment plan.

The company's bankruptcy plan can still be changed in the coming months to resolve any objections. The Department of Justice declined to comment on whether it will ask a judge to order changes or to reject the plan.

Despite government criticisms, Solyndra said in court documents its plan has the support of unsecured creditors such as suppliers who stand to get up to six cents on the dollar in return for backing the Argonaut and Madrone plan.

Without the Argonaut and Madrone plan, unsecured creditors would get nothing.

Solyndra has estimated the U.S. government could receive as much as around $24 million, according to court documents, which works out to about 5 cents on the dollar. Unable to compete against tumbling prices for panels from China, Solyndra filed for bankruptcy in September 2011.

The bankruptcy revealed that under a 2011 restructuring, Argonaut and Madrone committed to investing an additional $75 million to keep Solyndra afloat with the condition that their investment would be repaid before the U.S. government.