Hedge Fund Seized Indian Tycoons' Jet. Their Yacht May Be Next

  • Davidson Kempner says family-run Essar owes $200 million
  • Essar director questioned in London court about assets

First, Davidson Kempner Capital Management turned up the heat in its legal dispute with one of India’s wealthiest families by seizing a private jet. Now, the New York hedge fund has set its sights on something else many billionaires can’t live without: a luxury yacht.

Davidson Kempner affiliate Midtown Acquisitions is trying to force Essar Global Fund Ltd., an investment vehicle controlled by India’s Ruia family, to pay $200 million from a New York legal ruling. At a London hearing Tuesday, lawyers for the hedge fund questioned Nigel Bell, a director at Essar Global, about its assets.

Ravi, left, and Shashi Ruia

Photographer: AP Photo, Getty Images

The hearing took place under an English court procedure that allows creditors to get information that could help them enforce a ruling against a debtor’s assets. The latest stage of the escalating dispute threatens to spill out of the courtroom and into the lives of a prominent Indian family.

Debt-laden Essar Group, controlled by billionaire brothers Shashikant and Ravikant Ruia, has sought to restructure loans and sell assets to ease pressure from lending banks. In August, Essar sold its Indian oil-refining business to a group including Rosneft PJSC and Trafigura Group for $12.9 billion, helping the company cut its debts by about $11 billion.

The London case dates to September 2014, when Midtown, along with Barclays Plc, Credit Suisse Group AG and Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s special situations group, agreed to provide a secured term loan facility of as much as $450 million to Essar Steel Minnesota, according to London court documents filed by Midtown in February.

Essar Global Fund guaranteed the debt, which wasn’t repaid in full. In August 2016, a New York judge ruled in favor of the creditors, saying Essar owed $172 million plus interest. Midtown took over the claim and is leading global recovery efforts.

At the London hearing, Bell was asked about a Boeing 737-700, which Midtown’s lawyers seized in July at Stansted Airport outside London, and a 280-foot yacht called Sunrays.

“Entrepreneurs have access to funds to allow them to have these toys, where you or I might have a bicycle or a car,” said Bell, adding that he had never seen the ship and didn’t know about the jet. Essar Global’s lawyers dispute the ownership of both assets.

The plane has been held at Stansted since July, when a court enforcement officer walked into a private area of the airport and handed a “writ of control” to the pilot, according to an earlier ruling in the case. The jet had been scheduled to fly to India the following day.

Essar Group Fund said in a statement that Midtown’s attempts to take control of the aircraft have not been successful and that its legal owner, a company called White Springs, has agreed to keep it in England until the dispute is resolved. The company said it isn’t aware of any attempt to seize the yacht and to do so would be “entirely unjustified.”

Sunrays, a super-yacht, is owned by an Essar subsidiary and has some “unusual features,” Midtown’s lawyer Michael Bloch said Tuesday in court. Midtown hasn’t yet taken any action against the yacht. The deck of Sunrays features a spa and lounge with bamboo finishing that can be turned into a theater, according to website www.superyachts.com

Essar’s U.K. lawyer Simon Hart declined to comment outside court and didn’t respond to an email seeking comment. Davidson Kempner co-founder Thomas Kempner didn’t respond to a message seeking comment. Spokesmen for Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse and Barclays either declined to comment, or didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Bell, a non-executive director at Essar Global Fund, told the court that Chief Executive Officer Prashant Ruia had “significant but not total influence” over its activities. The fund’s portfolio was valued at about $9.9 billion in 2015, before the Rosneft deal, Bell said. Essar was named after the ‘S’ and ‘R’ in Shashikant and Ravikant, Bell said.

Bell declined to comment when contacted about the case by Bloomberg.

The next hearing in the London case is scheduled for December 19.

The case is: Midtown Acquisitions LP v. Essar Global Fund Limited, High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division, Commercial Court, CL-2016-000598

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