China Fishery Trustee Targets HSBC in Bankruptcy Probe

By Tom Corrigan Features Dow Jones Newswires

The court-appointed trustee in charge of China Fishery Group Ltd. isn't backing down in a bankruptcy battle with HSBC Ltd., which he is investigating for aggressive collection tactics that allegedly had a "severely negative impact" on the fishing enterprise.

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In court papers filed Thursday with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York, the trustee, William Brandt Jr., asked a bankruptcy judge to reaffirm his power to investigate HSBC.

A hearing on the matter is set for Thursday.

Mr. Brandt has been largely successful in the long-running row with HSBC, winning a court order in July from Judge James Garrity Jr. allowing him to investigate the bank for collection efforts that Mr. Brandt said may have stunted China Fishery's operations.

"Some creditors may have overstepped their bounds," Mr. Brandt said in an interview last month.

China Fishery filed for chapter 11 protection in June 2016.

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Mr. Brandt said HSBC is now "trying to delay compliance" with the judge's order, refusing to accept subpoenas for documents or to respond to other requests for information related to the probe. A lawyer for HSBC declined to comment Monday.

In court papers, HSBC, which said it is owed more than $100 million, has asked Judge Garrity for a temporary reprieve from the investigation while it pursues an appeal. HSBC said it would otherwise suffer "irreparable harm" from a "costly and invasive" process that it may be shut down by a higher court.

China Fishery is part of Pacific Andes Group, a collection of companies that together make up one of the world's largest seafood businesses.

Last month, Judge Garrity agreed to send China Fishery's considerable anchovy-harvesting operations off the coast of Peru to the auction block, where they are expected to fetch around $1.5 billion.

Tours of the Peruvian businesses began last month and will continue through mid-October, according to court papers. Bids are due Dec. 8, and an auction is set for Dec. 13.

The assets up for sale, repeatedly described in court hearings and court papers as China Fishery's "crown jewels," include about 50 vessels and 10 processing plants as well as a "significant percentage" of the annual anchovy fishing quotas set by the Peruvian government, according to Mr. Brandt.

Mr. Brandt took over China Fishery late last year after lenders convinced Judge Garrity to wrest control of the business away from the Ng family, which founded it in Hong Kong 30 years ago. The family retains control of other affiliated entities not in chapter 11.

China Fishery filed for chapter 11 protection in June 2016, blaming financial woes largely tied to El Niño, which has adversely affected Peruvian anchovy harvests in recent years. Court papers said those weather patterns have since subsided and the outlook for Peruvian anchovy fishing has improved.

Write to Tom Corrigan at tom.corrigan@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 25, 2017 15:59 ET (19:59 GMT)