Vooraleer een groepsvennootschap deelneemt aan een cash pool, moet ze nagaan of dit in haar belang is. Indien dit niet zo is, dreigt bestuurdersaansprakelijkheid (I). Ook lopende de cash-pooling-overeenkomst moeten de bestuurders de vinger aan de pols van het vennootschapsbelang houden, zeker indien er solvabiliteitsproblemen ontstaan binnen de groep (II). Om het risico op een schending van het vennootschapsbelang te verkleinen, kan men een aantal richtlijnen in acht nemen bij het vormgeven van de cash pool (III). Continue reading “Cash pooling: 7 tips om bestuurdersaansprakelijkheid te vermijden”
Opiniebijdrage door Sofie Cools & Joeri Vananroye
Deze post verscheen eerder op 11 oktober 2019 als een opiniebijdrage op De Tijd.
Bestuurders van een Belgische dochtervennootschap van Thomas Cook zouden enkele miljoenen euro hebben doorgestort naar de Britse moedervennootschap kort voor haar faillissement. Volgens de berichtgeving in de pers was de transfert het gevolg van een systeem van cashpooling.
Cashpooling is een afspraak tussen vennootschappen, doorgaans van eenzelfde groep, dat wanneer één van hen cash op overschot heeft, zij dat ter beschikking stelt aan een andere vennootschap in de cash pool die op dat ogenblik geld nodig heeft. Dat gebeurt via een centrale rekening, meestal op naam van de moedervennootschap.
Cashpooling is niet verboden, en maar goed ook. Cashpooling heeft namelijk grote voordelen. Door mekaar onderling geld te lenen, kunnen groepsvennootschappen vermijden dat ze interesten moeten betalen aan de bank voor sommen die bij een andere vennootschap ongebruikt op de rekening staan. De interest die de ene vennootschap betaalt om te lenen is normaal hoger dan de interest die de andere vennootschap op haar rekening ontvangt; het verschil is winst voor de groep.
A parent company’s liability for damage caused by its subsidiary is grounded in control
On 10 April 2019, in Vedanta v Lungowe, the UK Supreme Court confirmed the England and Wales Court of Appeal’s decision that Vedanta may owe a duty of care to neighbours of the copper mine operated by its Zambian subsidiary. The judgment is important in three respects. First, Vedanta v Lungowe marks the first time the UK Supreme Court found that a duty of care vis-à-vis parties other than the subsidiary’s employees may be owed by the parent company (albeit in its capacity of operator). Second, this duty of care is not novel and, therefore, the lenient test for adjudicatory jurisdiction is applicable. Third, in dicta, the UK Supreme Court clarified the legal basis and scope of supply chain liability.
In this post, the UK Supreme Court’s ruling is discussed, including the assessments of jurisdiction at a preliminary stage and the issue of novelty. It also reviews the implications of the Court’s dicta for the doctrine of supply chain liability. Continue reading “UK Supreme Court enables expansive supply chain liability”
Asset partitioning refers to limited liability (or: owner shielding) and entity shielding. In both cases a pool of assets is allocated to a pool of liabilities.
The economic justifications of limited liability and entity shielding typically refer – sometimes implicitly – to the situation of many shareholders in a business. Hansmann and Squire refer to this type of asset partitioning as external asset partitioning (“External and Internal Asset Partitioning: Corporations and Their Subsidiaries, The Oxford Handbook of Corporate Law and Governance (Forthcoming)”; Yale Law & Economics Research Paper No. 535, 2.). Asset partitioning is also used within a business to make separate pools of assets and liabilities; this is internal asset partitioning (ibid.). A typical example is a corporate group, where the business as an economic unity is internally, through affiliates, divided in separate pools of assets. We also consider a company owned (or primarily owned) by a single shareholder as internal asset partitioning, even if that shareholder is a physical person. The economic unity between the single shareholder and the business of her company is similar to, if not stronger than, that between the separate entities of a corporate group.
Asset partitioning builds walls between pools of assets and liabilities. Sometimes the insiders themselves disregard the asset partitioning which they have set up themselves. This is referred to as selective de-partitioning. A crude example is the single shareholder or the parent company extracting assets from its company or subsidiary or shifting liabilities towards it. A more sophisticated example is a guarantee of one entity of a group towards another entity of the group. Often legal rules provide the creditors of the shareholders of a company with remedies against selective de-partitioning. In such a case the law reinforces the walls of asset partitioning.
We will use Belgian law as an example of how an entity-focussed tax law can favour asset partitioning and discourage selective de-partitioning. Continue reading “The underestimated role of tax law in promoting asset partitioning ánd discouraging selective de-partitioning”
Can directors be employees? An array of answers are possible. A director may accept to perform the duties resulting from company law and the statutes of association by entering into eg a management contract, an agency agreement, or an employment contract. The diversity of plausible answers also impacts on EU private international law, as the applicability of the protective rules on jurisdiction in matters relating to employment contracts, contained in Art 18 et seq of the Brussels I Regulation Recast, depends on whether a relationship can be characterised as a ‘matter relating to an individual contract of employment’. At stake are among other things (1) the option of the director to sue the company in the courts of the place where he is domiciled, and (2) whether the company is restricted to pursue its actions against the director in the courts of the director’s domicile.
In his Opinion in C-603/17 EU:C:2019:65 Bosworth ea v Arcadia Petroleum ea, AG Saugmandsgaard Øe clarified the position of directors of a company in respect of the rules of jurisdiction applicable to employment contracts.Continue reading “Can directors be employees?”
Allowing creditors of one member of a corporate group to pierce horizontally to reach the assets of other members
Belgian private law is traditionally very distrustful of asset partitioning in the shape of both owner shielding and entity shielding. It has inherited from the 19th century French doctrine (Aubry & Rau) the idea that: (i) only persons have an estate; and (ii) every person has only one estate. An ‘estate’ (‘vermogen’ / ‘patrimoine’) is a pool of assets which serves as collateral for a pool of liabilities. Accordingly, the traditional théorie du patrimoine entails that a person cannot have separate pools of assets which serve as collateral for separate pools of liabilities. This theory betrays a strong distrust of asset partitioning, both internal and external.
In the beginning of the 19th century the rule ‘one person, one and only one estate’ was generally understood as referring to natural persons. The incorporation of legal persons, particularly of legal persons with owner shielding (limited liability), was exceptional and restricted. It was limited to certain types of activities and subject to governmental authorization. As a result, the 19th century doctrine of ‘one person, one and only one estate’, while at face value barely modified, presently has completely different practical consequences. Presently a natural person can easily incorporate, control and benefit from, one or more legal persons.
This raises the important question: Why is the traditional animus against asset partitioning not an issue, or less so, in case the technique of the corporate form with legal personality is used to bring about such asset partitioning? Continue reading “‘Enterprise liability’ for entities of a group?”
The European Law Institute (ELI) and Business and Liability Research Network (BLRN) of the Leiden Law School organise a conference on restructuring of corporate groups in the afternoon of 5 December 2018. ELI’s Business Rescue Report of Prof. Em. Bob Wessels and Prof. Stephan Madaus is the starting point for discussions on the treatment of insolvent corporate groups.
Bob Wessels (Leiden University) and Stephan Madaus (Halle-Wittenberg University, Germany) will introduce the ELI Business Rescue Report and the results of this European study with respect to restructuring of corporate groups in Europe. Prof. Joeri Vananroye (KU Leuven, Belgium) will discuss Belgian perspectives on corporate restructuring and Prof. Reinout Vriesendorp will elaborate on issues of director’s liability. Leiden Law School researchers Jessie Pool, Ilya Kokorin and Gert-Jan Boon will present a case study on corporate groups.
ELI Business Rescue Report