April 3, 2018 / 5:21 AM / 19 days ago

China's CEFC hit by legal action, as creditors review exposure: sources

HONG KONG/BEIJING (Reuters) - CEFC China Energy has been hit by legal action from a creditor, even as the cash-strained conglomerate’s biggest financial backer, China Development Bank (CDB), is attempting to dissuade lenders from taking action, sources said.

FILE PHOTO: A CEFC logo is seen at CEFC China Energy's Shanghai headquarter in Shanghai, China September 14, 2016. REUTERS/Aizhu Chen/File Photo

State-backed China Everbright Bank Co has filed multiple lawsuits against CEFC (Shanghai) International Group Co, a CEFC subsidiary, in a Shanghai court as it seeks to limit its exposure to the troubled group, said a source with direct knowledge of the matter.

Privately owned CEFC has come under financial pressure since it was revealed that Chairman Ye Jianming had been investigated for suspected economic crimes earlier this year.

Everbright Bank’s action steps up scrutiny and pressure on CEFC and comes at a time when Chinese authorities are intensifying a crackdown on some high-profile privately owned dealmaking conglomerates out of concerns of political and financial security.

CDB, CEFC’s largest lender, held a creditors’ meeting on Monday where it advised attendees to hold off filing any lawsuit and also asked them not to recall loans to CEFC to help it maintain normal operations, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter.

The first group of cases by Everbright Bank, involving 80 million yuan ($12.73 million), was originally scheduled to be reviewed by the court in late March, but was postponed due to objections raised by CEFC, a source said.

A search on the website of Shanghai’s High Court shows court hearings on another two cases are scheduled on May 9. The cause of the cases are contract disputes over financial borrowing, according to the website.

CDB and Everbright Bank declined to comment on the creditors’ meeting, while CEFC did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment. The sources could not be named as the discussions were confidential.

When contacted by Reuters, Everbright Bank confirmed it is seeking legal redress, but declined to provide any details.

ROSNEFT STAKE

CEFC, which had grown from a niche oil trader to a $25 billion conglomerate via a series of acquisitions overseas, has become a takeover target itself by state-owned companies after the chairman’s woes, with the outcome of a $9.1 billion stake acquisition in Russian oil major Rosneft uncertain.

CDB told participants at the meeting, comprising CEFC’s lenders and major bondholders, to examine their exposure to the group, the people said.

“CEFC has bonds maturing on May 21. We are all watching to see what will happen to it,” said one of the participants.

CEFC’s single largest source of financing has been CDB, which was also expected to play a major role in the Rosneft deal.

The Shanghai-based conglomerate has around 44 billion yuan ($6.94 billion) of short term borrowing due by the first half of 2018, according to its 2017 half-year financial report disclosed to onshore bondholders.

Trading in bonds with a total value of 14 billion yuan issued by CEFC (Shanghai) International Group have been halted since early March and a major domestic credit rating agency has downgraded the unit.

Part of CEFC (Shanghai) International Group’s stake in CEFC Anhui International Holding has been frozen by courts, CEFC Anhui said in a stock exchange filing on Friday, adding it has not been informed by CEFC (Shanghai) of the details. The shares add up to roughly 21.8 percent.

In March, Guosheng Group, an investment firm owned by the Shanghai government, was tasked with evaluating CEFC’s financial position as part of a restructuring and takeover process, two sources told Reuters at the time.

Reporting by Xiaowen Bi and Shu Zhang; Additional reporting by Kane Wu in Hong Kong and Aizhu Chen in Beijing; Writing by Kane Wu; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Muralikumar Anantharaman

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