PrivatBank bondholders' court win compounds lenders' tussle with former owners

Credit: REUTERS/VASILY FEDOSENKO

A London court order for Ukraine's largest lender PrivatBank to repay two of its defaulted bonds in full plus interest is a boost for their holders, but looks set to add to Kiev's complex tussle with the bank's former owner, oligarch Igor Kolomoisky.

By Marc Jones

LONDON, Oct 9 (Reuters) - A London court order for Ukraine's largest lender PrivatBank to repay two of its defaulted bonds in full plus interest is a boost for their holders, but looks set to add to Kiev's complex tussle with the bank's former owner, oligarch Igor Kolomoisky.

The ruling by the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) was originally made in June but the exact details have only just emerged after the bonds' trustee got approval to communicate them to investors.

In theory, PrivatBank could pay out as much as $460 million - the two bonds' 'principles' plus as much as 3.5 years of unpaid interest.

However, the LCIA ruling said payment should only be made on bonds which are not held by PrivatBank's former shareholders and their beneficiaries, which includes Kolomoisky and another oligarch Gennadiy Bogolyubov.

That raises the bonds' 'pari passu' legal clause, however, which deems that all holders be treated equally. As a result the trustee has asked the High Court in London to make a judgement. A hearing is scheduled for late February.

The case forms part of a wider protracted legal battle between Ukraine's government and Kolomoisky and Bogolyubov after PrivatBank was forcibly nationalised in December 2016 at a cost of $5.5 bln to plug a gap in the bank's capital.

Last December a London court ruled that it had no jurisdiction in another case pitting PrivatBank against the two former shareholders, a setback in efforts by the bank to claw back about $2 billion it says was lost to fraud.

Kolomoisky and Bogolyubov both strongly deny wrongdoing and say the lender was nationalised for political reasons.

One potential option in the latest case is for PrivatBank to pay out the bonds, but for Kiev to then freeze the accounts of the oligarchs until a broader decision is reached.

"Ukraine knows where the affiliated bonds (of former shareholders) are," said David Nietlispach at hedge fund Pala Assets in Switzerland, which owns some of the bonds at the centre of the case. "We can solve this very quickly".

A PrivatBank spokesman said: "At present the decisions (of the arbitration court) do not impose on the Bank any requirement to make any payments to any person under such decisions" because the high court still has to make its judgement in February.

(Reporting by Marc Jones and Natalia Zinets in Kiev Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

((marc.jones@thomsonreuters.com; +44 (0)207 542 9033; Reuters Messaging: marc.jones.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net Twitter @marcjonesrtrs))

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