Global Restructuring Review - Cross-border restructuring and insolvency legal news, features and events

Rajah & Tann

04 May 2018

Well known for its creditor work, including a group for whom it defeated Singapore's first super-priority DIP financing application

Global head of restructuring and insolvency Sim Kwan Kiat
Partners in restructuring team 21
Restructuring lawyers in Who's Who Legal 3
Active cross-border restructuring and insolvency matters 23
Total billable hours of the group 12,000

History of the practice

Founded in 1976 by legendary lawyer-politician TT Rajah and his partner Tann Wee Tiong, the firm lawyer count went from six to 160 in the 1990s under the leadership of Rajah's son VK Rajah, who went on to become a Supreme Court judge and Singapore's attorney-general. He set up the insolvency division in 1995, the first dedicated R&I practice in the region, and took on its first case the same year when Barings Bank collapsed. Since then the practice has blossomed to over 30 attorneys, applying a strong international outlook and Rajah & Tann's network of South East Asian offices to pick up international work across ASEAN countries and further afield.

The firm's now managing partner, Lee Eng Beng SC, led the insolvency division through perhaps its most explosive period of growth from 2003 to 2009. With experience in insolvency-related banking disputes and arbitration, his time managing the practice gave the firm strong ties to the city-state's financial sector. Lee remains a prominent figure in Singapore's restructuring scene, even if he's since been promoted out to manage the wider firm: he and partner Patrick Ang appeared on the Singaporean government committee that worked on Singapore's sweeping insolvency reforms. Only recently, the president of Singapore handed him a public service medal in recognition of his contributions to the Singapore Ministry of Law's sweeping insolvency reforms.

Having been called to the bar in both New York and Singapore before joining the firm, current division head Sim Kwan Kiat has overseen yet more success for the practice, with partners securing work arising out of the struggling oil and gas and shipping sectors.

Network

Rajah & Tann's insolvency division boasts the widest ASEAN spread of any Singaporean firm, with restructuring expertise planted in offices and associate firms in Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Laos and China.

Who uses it?

Given its spread across the region, the firm often finds itself advising South East Asian multinationals, and large companies in each of the South East Asian states where it has a presence.

In cross-border matters, which mostly engage the firm's Singaporean partners, Rajah & Tann's books show a particular emphasis on the oil and gas and shipping sectors as companies struggle to cope with rumbles in those industries. The firm is typically more inclined to take on creditor-side roles, given its strong relationships with the region's top financiers. Banks in particular use it – including local Big Three DBS, OCBC and UOB, and internationals such as Bank of New York Mellon, HSBC, Maybank and Standard Chartered.

Historic track record

Over the years Rajah & Tann has had a role in some of Singapore's biggest insolvencies. During the late-1990s Asian financial crisis it was involved in the restructurings of Indonesian companies Asian Pulp & Paper and Ometraco. In more recent times it has worked on major matters like MF Global and Lehman Brothers, in which it acted for the liquidators in respect of around 50 Singapore-based entities.

One of Rajah & Tann's highest-profile instructions was acting for liquidators from KPMG in the 2014 wind-up of Dynamic Oil Trading, a Singaporean arm of bankrupt ship oil supplier OW Bunker. The firm's work on that case included international asset tracing efforts, reaching as far as Denmark, Hong Kong, the US, UAE and Australia.

The firm also acts as counsel to a major Singaporean investment arm of Indonesian miner PT Bumi resources. Rajah & Tann negotiated a deal to restructure the company's Singaporean bonds and notes, worth roughly US$1 billion, in 2015.

Partners in Singapore worked jointly with Cambodian associate firm R&T Sok & Heng Law Office on the liquidation of Cambodian clothing company Yung Wah in 2013. That case was only the second-ever formal insolvency proceeding in a Cambodian court and the first-ever stationed in the South East Asian state.

In 2013, the firm also acted as Singaporean counsel for lenders in the global restructuring of Danish shipping giant Torm A/S, helping to restructure the company's debts of around US$2 billion.

In 2016, Rajah & Tann won a precedent-setting bankruptcy litigation for BDG, a Singaporean oil company. The courts restrained a fuel company from petitioning the firm's client into insolvency proceedings, ruling that it was an unsuitable means of chasing debt where a prima facie case existed for sending the matter to arbitration.

Recent events

Rajah & Tann is acting for the Big Three plus HSBC trustees in offshore marine company Ezra Holdings' restructuring, where the US$500 million owed to the firm's banking clients represents some of its biggest exposures. The company is the first homegrown significant Singapore company to file for Chapter 11 protection.

On the debtor side, the firm is acting for semiconductor manufacturer Global A&T Electronics, which entered Chapter 11 in December. The client's restructuring reduced its US$1.2 billion funded debt to US$665 million.

The firm is advising Singaporean oil and gas servicing group Swissco partners on a major out-of-court refinancing deal to slash the company's US$222 million debt.

It is also counsel to KPMG partners in their capacity as interim judicial managers to global oil and gas group Swiber.

Rajah & Tann also has a hand in many of the other big restructurings going on at the moment in Singapore, including (as noted earlier) Bumi Resources, Hanjin Group and Seadrill.

In a case that attracted a lot of attention, the firm shot down Singapore's first super-priority debtor-in-possession financing application, from media and education holding company Attilan Group, as counsel to a range of different creditors.

On the people side, Ang became the first Singaporean member of the American College of Bankruptcy.