Credit Suisse in bid to wind up Sanjeev Gupta's trading unit

LONDON • Credit Suisse Group is seeking to push one of Mr Sanjeev Gupta's key commodities-trading units into insolvency, presenting a new threat to his metal empire after the collapse of his biggest lender.

The application to wind up Liberty Commodities was filed in the United Kingdom's insolvency court late on Tuesday by a unit of Citigroup. Citi was acting under instructions from Credit Suisse, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified discussing private information.

The move marks a dramatic turn for the worse in Mr Gupta's battle to secure the survival of his corporate empire.

For several weeks since Greensill Capital collapsed into insolvency, Mr Gupta and his GFG Alliance have been searching for new financing while simultaneously trying to persuade his existing lenders to hold off.

In another blow for Mr Gupta's embattled empire, Morgan Stanley and ICBC Standard Bank, two lenders to GFG's aluminium smelter in Dunkirk, France, have started talks with potential buyers of their loan exposure to the group, according to people familiar with the matter.

An unnamed lender sought to sell US$7 million (S$9.4 million) of the debt at a 15 per cent discount on Wednesday, separate sources said.

"GFG Alliance is in constructive discussions with Grant Thornton, Greensill's administrators, to negotiate a consensual and amicable solution on the way forward, which is in the best interests of all stakeholders," a GFG spokesman said. "While this takes place, we will vigorously defend any legal action on the grounds that we have a three-year committed facility with Greensill."

The spokesman declined to comment on the potential sale of the smelter loans.

Representatives for Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley and ICBC Standard Bank declined to comment.

Liberty Commodities is one of the main units of Mr Gupta's trading business and had revenue of US$4.2 billion in the year to March 2020.

It is one of a number of companies in Dubai, Hong Kong and elsewhere owned by Liberty Commodities Group, a Singaporean entity and through which Mr Gupta's commodity trading business is run.

The company's annual report says Mr Sanjeev Gupta is the ultimate beneficial owner.

The trading business has a presence in 30 countries and has been involved in buying and selling industrial metals for the past 25 years, according to its website.

It trades more than 10 million tonnes of steel and 35,000 tonnes of nickel annually, according to a brochure published last year.

Credit Suisse was a major lender to GFG via funds that bought debt packaged by Greensill Capital. The Swiss bank decided to liquidate the funds last month after Greensill failed to extend insurance coverage for some of the loans.

Mr Gupta's GFG Alliance has held preliminary talks with York Capital Management and White Oak Global Advisors to partially replace the Greensill financing, Bloomberg reported last month.

It has also looked to governments for help, but a request for a £170 million (S$316 million) bailout from Britain was rejected due to "concerns" over how the money would be used.

In a podcast for his employees published at the last weekend, Mr Gupta said the past month had been "the most difficult month of my life without any exception".

He said there was "incoming interest from financiers wanting to refinance the Greensill debt", but that he was also preparing a defence in case of any dispute with Greensill's administrator.

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 02, 2021, with the headline 'Credit Suisse in bid to wind up Sanjeev Gupta's trading unit'. Subscribe