* More than 70 pct of shareholders approve plan
* Court hearing on March 11 last step before capital hike
By Alice Cannet and Matthieu Protard
PARIS, Feb 28 Shareholders of debt-laden French
spirits group Belvedere approved the company's
debt-restructuring plan after an unruly meeting lasting more
than five hours on Thursday, giving it a chance to avoid an
otherwise likely liquidation.
The plan, which must still be approved by a court at a
hearing on March 11, was supported by more than 70 percent of
shareholders, while investors rejected resolutions to dismiss
the company's board added to the agenda at the last minute.
Threatened with a substantial dilution of their holdings
under the plan, some shareholders had asked that the board of
Belvedere, which has been in the hands of a court-appointed
administrator since March 2012, be immediately dismissed.
At the end of a meeting marked by shouts and heckles,
shareholders backed the plan, which will dilute their holdings
to just 13 percent of the capital as Belvedere's entire debt -
672 million euros ($879 million) at end-June - is converted into
This will turn Belvedere's main creditor, Oaktree Capital
Management, owner of rival Stock Spirits which makes
Polish Orzel vodka, into the company's largest shareholder, with
38 percent of its capital but limited voting rights of 19.9
Belvedere's administrator had warned earlier this month that
failure to ratify the plan could mean mass layoffs at the
company, which employs 3,315 staff worldwide, including 713 in
France and 1,903 in Poland.
U.S. movie star Bruce Willis, who owns about 3 percent of
the company's capital, did not attend Thursday's meeting.
The vote came as shareholders of the owner of Sobieski vodka
and France's best-selling Scotch whisky William Peel, gathered
for the second time this month after a meeting earlier in
February was adjourned for lack of a quorum.
Some 30 people opposing the conditions of the vote and the
proposed plan walked up to the stage, forcing security guards to
intervene to stop the meeting from degenerating into chaos.
This led the company to include new resolutions on the
agenda to allow shareholders to vote on whether to keep or
dismiss the company's board, which includes Chief Executive and
co-Founder Krzysztof Trylinski and three other members.
The drinks maker, founded in 1991, filed for court
protection in June 2008 from creditors demanding early
reimbursement of most of the 535 million euros of debt it had
issued in 2006 to buy Marie Brizard liquors.
Belvedere, which has since been at war with its creditors,
including Oaktree Capital, finally struck a deal with them last
The deal originally set out two scenarios: Belvedere could
either sell one or more of its top brands, or, if the amount was
insufficient, it could convert its entire debt into equity,
leading to a huge dilution for shareholders.
With offers for its brands reaching 155 million euros,
compared with the 310 million minimum needed to start repaying
creditors according to the deal, the asset sale did not go
Belvedere posted 2012 sales of 894 million euros but has not
yet published earnings. The 2011 current operating loss reached
5 million euros, with a net loss of 55 million.