Die Hard (with a vengeance)

October 22, 2009

Actor Bruce WillisAmerican actor Bruce Willis is probably best known as the all-action hero in the Die Hard films, fighting evil-doers against all the odds.

But in France, Willis looks to be a new shareholder in French vodka maker Belvedere, maker of Poland’s Sobieski vodka. Earlier this year Willis signed a multi-year deal to promote Sobieski.

Like Willis, Belvedere is no stranger to battles, having been through a two-year-long court fight with its bondholders. The bondholders — many of whom are hedge funds — want to be repaid and would accept a forced sale of the company to get their cash back. Belvedere disagrees and has proposed a debt restructuring plan that would see them paid back over years.

Mediating between the battling groups are the French commercial courts, who must interpret recently introduced ‘sauvegarde’ rules.

Lawyers say the economic crisis means courts are sympathetic to the French companies and often refuse to support lenders seeking to take control of struggling businesses’ assets. Read here for more details.

A court ruling on Nov. 10 will see whether Belvedere bondholders will be forced to accept delays in being repaid. Bondholders say the company’s plans are “unreal” while Belvedere thinks the lenders are only interested in breaking up the company for their own gain.

Many financiers will watch closely to see which way the court rules. But given the direction of recent court cases, few expect Belvedere to need Bruce Willis to force their point.

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