Vicentin set to restart exports while banks claim it ‘diverted’ US$400M

The judge overseeing the preventive bankruptcy process of cash-strapped Argentine crusher Vicentin has ordered the national tax agency to lift export restrictions on the company, AgriCensus reported on 3 July.

Meanwhile, creditors had requested a New York judge to subpoena financial documents from the global soyabean giant, alleging it had ‘improperly siphoned’ around US$400M just before its bankruptcy in February, AgriCensus added on 6 July.

The banks - including Rabobank, Credit Agricole, ING Bank and the International Finance Corporation - were requesting copies of money wire transfers that they claimed had been made by the crusher to several close entities during the latter half of 2020.

Denying the allegations, Vicentin said it had always complied with requests for information on its financial position and added that this would not change, a source close to the company was quoted as saying to Argentine newspaper Infobae Economico.

“It is impossible to be calm because we are going through a very particular situation with crazy denunciations against the family but we are confident that, through the bankruptcy and with a working legal system, we will find a way out of the crisis,” the source told the newspaper.

The allegations followed attempts by Argentine President Alberto Fernandez to nationalise Vicentin, which sparked protests. A new rescue plan was proposed by the province of Santa Fe and agreed by the President Fernandez, AgriCensus said on 22 June. The plan involved Santa Fe assuming the crushing company’s liabilities, meaning full-scale nationalisation could be avoided.

Vicentin has faced financial problems since defaulting on payments to grain suppliers and brokerage firms in December 2019. The company was believed to owe approximately US$350M to grain suppliers, with a total debt of US$1.5bn.

The tax agency (AFIP) had restricted Vicentin’s grain and derivatives exports at the end of last year due to the lack of payment of grain export duties and other taxes.

In his ruling, Judge Fabián Lorenzini ruled that the main goal of the preventive bankruptcy process was to allow the company to survive and preserve jobs, an outcome that would be thwarted by an export ban.

The move would allow the crusher to start exporting products such as soyabean derivatives for the first time in six months.

“Vicentin had been previously authorised to resume purchases of grain and the company has acquired a very low amount of grain so far and I believe they will continue to buy very limited amounts of grain,” an industry source was quoted by AgriCensus as saying.

“If export restrictions are fully lifted by AFIP, the company will be allowed to close some export deals, which would be limited, but they will be useful for Vicentin to resume some level of activity and to preserve the value of its assets,” he added.

Vicentin, which exports 90% of its production, had asked the judge to lift all suspensions in the registry of importers and exporters on 14 May.

The company’s plants were currently crushing soyabean after the company had signed toll agreements with third companies, AgriCensus said.