January 25, 2018 / 5:20 PM / a year ago

London court backs Sberbank, Franklin Templeton on IBA debt restructuring

* IBA asked for $3.3 bln restructure last year

* Sberbank, Templeton did not take part in plan - court document

* London court supported Sberbank, Templeton position - document

* IBA says appeal court to decide on claim

By Tatiana Voronova, Nailia Bagirova and Karin Strohecker

MOSCOW/BAKU/LONDON, Jan 25 (Reuters) - A London court has sided with Franklin Templeton Investment Management and Russia’s Sberbank in a ruling relating to International Bank of Azerbaijan’s (IBA) debt restructuring, potentially delaying the process.

Last year, state-owned IBA proposed a plan to restructure $3.3 billion of its debt and said in July it had received approval from creditors holding 93.9 percent of the affected credits.

As part of the restructuring process, IBA had obtained in May 2017 a moratorium from the London court in relation to the restructuring. The process was done under Azeri law and was expected to be finished by January 30.

According to a document from the London’s High Court of Justice, the moratorium prevents creditors from commencing or continuing any action against IBA or its property without the court’s permission.

IBA had applied to have the moratorium extended beyond the end-January deadline but Sberbank and Franklin Templeton Investment Management Limited (FTIML) opposed extending the moratorium, according to a Jan. 18 court ruling seen by Reuters.

Sberbank holds a $20 million loan from July 2016 and Franklin Templeton holds another $500 million due next year.

Neither had agreed to the restructuring plan.

Both firms argued that their dealings with IBA were governed by English law, and referred to a court precedent dated back to 1890 known as the ‘Gibbs case’ when “local law” from another jurisdiction was ruled to be irrelevant for a deal signed under the English law.

“They rely on the rule in Gibbs, which states that a debt governed by English law cannot be discharged by a foreign insolvency proceeding,” the document said. The court supported both firms’ position to take the Gibbs case into account in the IBA process.

“This decision would help to improve stability of claims under the English Law and motivate the market players for honest delivery on their responsibilities,” Sberbank told Reuters in an email. FTIML declined to comment.

IBA said in a written comment sent to Reuters that the ruling did not entitle Sberbank and FTIML to demand payment from it.

“This issue will be decided by the Court of Appeal, and, if necessary, by the Supreme Court of England,” IBA said.

“The legal process in the United Kingdom would not affect the successful conclusion of the restructuring process in Azerbaijan.”

But a UK lawyer said that the restructuring could not be concluded until the court of appeal had come to a decision, which could be several months away.

Reporting by Tatiana Voronova in Moscow, Naila Bagirova in Baku, Karin Strohecker in London, additional reporting by Sujata Rao in London, writing by Katya Golubkova. Editing by Jane Merriman

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