We have been tracking the Panama Papers scandal with a lot of interest. The papers leaked to a German newspaper blew the lid wide open on thousands of offshore shell companies set up by Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca in tax havens around the world, implicating several politicians, heads of state, businessmen and celebrities from various countries. But where does India figure in all of this? What laws have the 500 Indians named in the documents allegedly broken? What could the consequences be? Amidst all of the noise and overwhelming amounts of information out there, join us as we make sense of it all and understand the Panama Papers from an Indian law perspective.
Shareholders’ agreements govern the rights and obligations of the shareholders. The company is also made a party to such agreements so as to make it binding on the company. Among other things, they set out the various rights of shareholders and provide for the conduct of business, the transfer of securities, and how to resolve deadlocks. Often, the company is also made a party to such an agreement and in an investment transaction, this is done at a “closing” by holding board and shareholders’ meetings that result in the amending of the original articles of association.
These rights set out the level of control that a private equity investor may exercise in the management of the target company.
The common methods of exercising control include:
– the ability to appoint the investor’s representatives to the board
The number of such representatives depends on the level of investment. In cases where the number of representatives is less than 50 per cent but more than 20 per cent, the investor attempts to ensure that the quorum required for any meeting cannot be complete without some or all of its representatives present and voting.
Where the parties cannot agree on such compulsory quorum requirements, a list of “affirmative vote” items is set out. These are items that the board cannot take a decision on without the investor’s consent. Some common “affirmative vote” items include entering into key agreements, the appointment of key personnel, the incurring of indebtedness and creation of security, and bringing about any changes to the business. How comprehensive this list of items is, also depends on the negotiations and the investment. For most startups, the investment is low and their independence in relation to the operations of the business is often instrumental to a transaction. Achieving a balance between such independence and the security of investment is a key point in the negotiations.
– provision of voting rights
In most cases, since the money is routed through a tax-friendly jurisdiction, investment is made in the form of compulsorily convertible instruments with a conversion pricing formula. This means that the instrument shall convert into equity at a later time (with a specific conversion event that should be clearly set out) under a formula that the parties agree on.
Until recently, it was assumed in the agreement that the instruments have already been converted into equity. The proportion of the investors’ (assumed) holding in the entire shareholding of the company would entitle the investor to exercise higher voting rights. After recent amendments to the company law however, only equity shareholders are entitled to vote. It is not clear whether convertible instrument holders can exercise their right to vote in the company. This may have substantially curtailed the voting rights of private equity investors. So while it may be safe(until challenged) to retain in the agreement, voting rights on the basis of an assumed conversion, there may even be a case to increase control at the board level until there is more clarity in the law.
Usually, in any investment transaction, it is stipulated that if the company carries out a share split, issue of bonus shares, consolidation of shares, combinations, recapitalisations or any similar event that may result in the dilution of the shareholding of the investor, including the issuance of any securities by the company, then the investors will be protected against any dilution of its shareholding in the company. For instance, it may be provided that the company shall take all necessary steps (including but not limited to the issuance of new shares) to ensure that the investors maintain their shareholding at the level prior to the occurrence of such event, without any consideration. However, in a case where there is additional funding required by the company and a party provides for such funding without a similar contribution by the other party, dilution of the non-contributing party cannot be avoided.
Transfer of securities and exit mechanism
At the time of investment, the terms of exit are also clearly set out in the transaction documentation. Sometimes, in a joint venture or a private equity investment, some restrictions are placed on a party’s right to transfer shareholding because their involvement in the company has some value that is not monetary alone. The common forms of restrictions placed on the transfer of securities are lock-in, right of first refusal or offer, tag along rights, and drag along rights. Further, unless there is a sale of the entire shareholding of the company to a competitor, a part of the shareholding is not permitted to be sold to a competitor.
Lock-in refers to a period following the closing of a transaction during which the investor will not be able to sell his shares to a third party. This restriction is essential to maintain a sense of continuity and settlement to the business. In private equity transactions, the investor is not the person who intends to run the business of the company. It invests in the capabilities of the promoters to run the business in a particular manner. In some cases, the involvement of the promoters is key to business and it is not ideal if the promoters divest their shareholding and cease to be a part of the business mid-way through the investment cycle. Therefore, a private equity investor will usually require an undertaking from the promoters that they will not exit from the business of the company, including through the selling of any shares.
Rights of first refusal or offer, and tag along and drag along rights are particularly important when either party wishes to sell its stake to a third party. Prior to the conclusion of such a sale, any of these restrictions in the shareholders’ agreement will require the selling party to offer its shareholding, first to the other shareholder party at a price at which it was contemplating the sale to a third party. In several cases, the selling party provides the other shareholder party an offer at which a third party is ready to purchase its shares. The shareholder party then gets a right to either accept or refuse such offer. Upon a refusal, the selling party is free to sell those shares to a third party but not at a price lower than the price that was offered or provided to the other shareholder party.
Sometimes, when the sale of shares to a third party is acceptable, the other shareholder party is also entitled to sell its stake along with the selling party to such third party. It is often the case that when the promoter sells its stake to a third party, the investor is no longer keen to be in the company or may not be keen to maintain such a high stake in the company any longer and may “tag” its shares along for sale to the third party. This is usually when the promoter retains some shareholding in the company.
The sale of an entire shareholding (known as a buyout) is usually governed by different terms and the provision of drag along rights are very common in such cases. Drag along rights refer to a right where a selling shareholder is entitled to drag the shares of the other shareholder and sell them to a third party at the same price and terms as that of its shares.
In mature private equity transactions, the investor is provided a basket of exit rights including taking the company to an initial public offer where preference is sometimes given to investors’ shares. There may also be provisions for the protection of investors’ money when things go wrong with the target company, a consideration that also influences the investor’s choice of instrument. In private equity transactions, usually, an internal rate of return or a pricing formula based on an acceptable manner of share valuation is determined at the very outset. At the time of exit, a put option is provided to the investor through which it can sell its shareholding to the promoter this pre-determined valuation. On some occasions, parties also have a call option where the other party’s shares may be purchased at a pre-determined value.
Angira Singhvi is a Partner with Khaitan & Khaitan and handles general corporate, joint ventures and private equity investments.
After our discussions on condition precedent clauses, restrictions placed on transfer of shares, and the meaning of ‘call’ and ‘put’ options, let us now turn our attention to the termination clause, one of the last clauses we usually see in a shareholders agreement but no less significant. It is in fact a vital clause that contains the mechanism by which an agreement can be terminated and the shareholders can exit the company.
A termination clause typically contains two main elements: (1) the events of termination; and (2) the consequences of such an event occurring. In this post, let us look closely at some common events of termination:
– Material default by one party: Take the case of A Limited and K Limited, two parties to a shareholder agreement. K Limited commits a material default and is unable to cure that default within a specified period of time. A Limited should then have the right to terminate the agreement.
While drafting this clause, clearly define the term ‘material default’. This ensures that the agreement cannot be terminated for minor ingressions and that only serious defaults will trigger the clause. Also, it reduces the scope for parties to dispute whether a ‘material default’ has in fact occurred.
Next, the defaulting party should always be provided a specified time period (known as the ‘cure period’) to rectify the situation, and only the non-defaulting party should be given the right to terminate the agreement. Specify that to invoke this clause, the non-defaulting party must always send a written notice to the defaulting party.
– Deadlock: A deadlock typically occurs when parties are unable to agree on a vital issue necessary for running the business of the company. While drafting, always define a ‘deadlock situation’. An example could be a company’s inability to hold a board meeting on three consecutive times for want of quorum.
For example, if K Limited would like the company to take a loan and A Limited disagrees and whenever K Limited tries to organise a board meeting to discuss this issue, the directors representing A Limited do not show up and so since no proper quorum is constituted for a board meeting, it can be considered a ‘deadlock situation’.
Often, the occurrence of a deadlock situation can act as a termination event. Parties may feel that it is impossible to run the business in such a situation and they would rather terminate the agreement. Discuss with your clients whether they would like a deadlock to be a termination event or whether they would prefer to resolve the situation through other means (such as arbitration).
Further, if a deadlock situation is considered an event of termination, always specify a mechanism by which one party can send a written notice to the other party specifying that this is a deadlock and it would like to terminate the agreement.
– Insolvency of the company – A Limited and K Limited are shareholders in One Limited, a corporation that is bankrupt and going through insolvency proceedings. Obviously the shareholders will then wish to terminate the agreement since it is not possible to continue running the business. While drafting this clause, it is best to specify that the agreement will terminate automatically on the occurrence of this event. This will eliminate procedural steps such as a notice being sent by one party to another.
– Cancellation of the license required to carry on business: The shareholders agreement concerns a banking company. A bank requires a license from the Reserve Bank of India to carry on business. If this license is cancelled, the bank ceases to function. Therefore, cancellation of the license (in a regulated entity) should be drafted as an automatic termination event.
– Change in law (resulting in the business of the company becoming illegal): Currently, the law permits private entities to operate airlines (subject to the necessary approvals). Assume that over a period of time, the government changes the law and nationalises all airlines. This means that private entities can no longer operate airlines. Consequently, any shareholders agreement to operate a particular airline must automatically terminate.
There is one important distinction among termination events that comes to mind when we study these clauses – some do not result in automatic termination and require parties to send written notices to each other (for instance, in case of material default or deadlock situations) and in other cases, there is an automatic termination (in case of a change in law, insolvency, or cancellation of a license). Always keep this distinction in mind while drafting. Ask your clients whether they are comfortable with certain events leading to automatic termination. After all, the thumb rule while drafting is always to reflect the interests of your client.
Finally, remember that a termination clause usually comes into play when the parties are disputing or have an issue they cannot resolve. In such a scenario, it is necessary that the termination clause is clearly drafted and sets out in a very precise manner, the events of termination and their consequences. If the clause is open-ended or vague, it is unlikely the parties will be able to follow the clause since they will end up arguing over the very intent of the clause itself. As a lawyer, your role is to try to amicably resolve the dispute or at the very least provide the most efficient way to exit from a situation that cannot be resolved!
With this, we come to the end of this post. In my next post I will write about the consequences of termination.
Deepa Mookerjee is part of the faculty on myLaw.net.
Once a company is listed on a stock exchange, it is subject to a number of on-going conditions and disclosure requirements. It must comply with them in order to maintain its status as a listed company. While some of these conditions can be found in the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Issue of Capital and Disclosure Requirements), 2009, the majority can be found in the listing agreement between the company and the stock exchange on which the securities of the company are listed.
According to Section 21 of the Securities Contracts (Regulation) Act, 1956, when securities are listed on any recognised stock exchange, the issuing company must comply with the conditions of the listing agreement of that stock exchange. Simply put, a listing agreement is a statutorily mandated contract, between the listed company and the stock exchange where it is listed, which sets out various obligations of the company to protect the interests of the public shareholders and the capital markets at large. The Securities and Exchange Board of India (“SEBI”) has prescribed the format for a model listing agreement (“Model Listing Agreement”). You can find a version of the listing agreement that is substantially the same on the website of the National Stock Exchange here.
It is natural to wonder how listing agreements—which are private agreements between stock exchanges and the companies listed on them—can have the force of law. Even though they do not have the authority of law behind them, they have been treated as such so far.
To properly codify the requirements laid out in the listing agreement, the SEBI, in September, issued the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements) Regulations, 2015 (“LODR Regulations”). The LODR Regulations serve to consolidate and streamline the provisions of the various listing agreements in operation for different segments of the capital markets, such as equity listings, listing of debt instruments, preference shares, Indian depository receipts, securitised debt instruments, units of mutual funds, and any other securities that the SEBI may specify. Further, by issuing these regulations, the SEBI is ensuring that there is no overlap between regulations, as there used to be with listing agreements. All pre-listing requirements have been excluded from the LODR Regulations. They only deal with post-listing requirements.
The LODR Regulations have been divided into two parts. The substantive provisions are incorporated in the main body of the regulations and the procedural requirements are incorporated in the form of Schedules to the regulations. The LODR Regulations also capture the corporate governance principles found in Clause 49 of SEBI’s Model Listing Agreement.
Listed companies will still have to enter into a listing agreement within six months after the LODR Regulations come into effect. This version however, likely to be shorter than the one currently in use.
With the LODR Regulations and the listing agreements, the intent is to ensure that once a company is listed on a stock exchange and its shares are easily accessible to the public, the shareholders and the public should be able to evaluate the position of the company, and to avoid establishment of a false market in its securities. Investors must be informed of all significant decisions affecting the performance and future viability of listed companies. The LODR Regulations ensure this by providing a comprehensive disclosure framework that companies need to comply with to maintain their status after their listing.
Immediate effect of the LODR Regulations
The LODR Regulations will become effective on December 1, 2015, with the exception of two regulations—Regulation 23(4) and Regulation 31A—that became effective on September 2, 2015, when the LODR Regulations were notified.
Regulation 23 deals with related party transactions, and sub-clause (4) of this regulation states that:
“All material related party transactions shall require approval of the shareholders through resolution and the related parties shall abstain from voting on such resolutions whether the entity is a related party to the particular transaction or not.”
This provision has been given immediate effect to bring the requirement for shareholders’ resolution for related party transactions in line with the latest amendments to the Companies Act, 2013.
Regulation 31A relates to disclosures relating to promoters and the re-classification of promoters as public shareholders under various circumstances.
There does not seem to be any apparent reason why these two provisions have been given immediate effect, except perhaps to indicate that active steps are being taken to meet corporate demand on the relaxations on these issues, as was done to amend the Companies Act, 2013 earlier this year.
Deeksha Singh is part of the faculty on myLaw.net.
Once due diligence has been conducted on the target of a private equity investment and the investor, satisfied with the outcome of due diligence, is ready to invest, the stage is set for drafting the documents needed to complete the transaction. Drafts of these documents are usually prepared while the due diligence proceeds simultaneously.
The key documents
The documents that are fundamental to a private equity investment are (1) the share purchase agreement (“SPA”) or the share subscription agreement (“SSA”) depending on how the investor acquires shares in the target; (2) the shareholders’ agreement (“SHA”); and (3) the disclosure schedule. Since a private equity investor invests in the company for a fixed amount of time rather than in the assets owned by the company, asset transfers are quite rare.
An SPA provides for the transfer of shares to the investor. It is executed when the shareholders of the target company agree to transfer their shares to the investor. Under such an agreement, the investor purchases shares that are already in existence. An SSA on the other hand, provides for a new issue of shares. Such an agreement is preferred when parties decide that instead of the current shareholders transferring their shares to the new investor, the company would issue new shares to the investor. The investor subscribes to these new shares and hence the name, “share subscription agreement”.
An SHA provides for the rights and obligations of the parties inter se, that is, in relation to each other. It includes provisions for the manner in which the target company will be governed and run after the closing. Common items covered in an SHA are the appointment of directors, the conduct of board and shareholders’ meetings, shareholding, the raising of finance, and the transfer of shares.
A disclosure schedule sets out the documents and information that the target has provided or given access to the investor during the due diligence process or at any time before the execution of documents.
Let us now discuss these documents in greater detail. I will cover SPAs and SSAs in this article and SHAs and disclosure schedules in the next one.
As we have seen, an SPA or an SSA (as the case may be) provides the framework for the investor to become a shareholder in the target company. Let us now see some of the major issues that this document will cover.
Transfer or issue of shares
The agreement will state whether the shares are being issued or transferred to the investor. It will also set out the price at which the shares are being issued or transferred, the mode of transfer or issue, and the manner in which the consideration is transferred. While the transfer is stipulated in the agreement, it actually takes place during the board meeting that is conducted at the time of closing the deal. I will discuss the details of how this should be conducted in a later article on closing.
While drafting this clause, it is also useful to keep in mind certain specific aspects that may affect a transfer.
– Documents in escrow: The parties may, for example, only want the transfer to take effect from a later date. Until that date, they may want the executed documents to be deposited in an escrow account. While drafting such conditions, you should be able to identify any procedural and secretarial issues such as those in relation to the validity of resolutions for a particular period or the validity of share transfer certificates. An escrow arrangement for instance, will not work unless those documents are valid for the entire period of escrow.
– Sale to a foreign party: Similarly, a sale to a foreign party must adhere to the pricing norms contained in the FDI Policy.
– Encumbrances: In the case of a transfer of securities, lawyers advising on the transaction should ensure that the transfer is free from all encumbrances. For example, the shares may be pledged to third parties against loans and advances or there may be a charge on the assets of the company. Due diligence should be thorough so that any such possibilities can be crossed out. Further, documentation should mention that all transfers are without any encumbrance. Charges can be searched on the Ministry of Corporate Affairs’ website and a lawyer can draft the ‘transfer’ clause accordingly.
– Authorised share capital: In case of a new issue of shares, a lawyer should also ensure that the company will continue to comply with the ceiling of authorised share capital after such issue. Under law, a company cannot raise more capital than the authorised share capital provided in its memorandum of association. In case the capital after the raise is likely to exceed this amount, the memorandum should be amended to reflect that.
– Nature of security: In case the issue involves a party resident outside India and the automatic route is intended for the investment, a lawyer advising on the transaction should also ensure that the nature of security is such that it is a plain vanilla equity or that is compulsorily convertible into equity and advise the client accordingly.
Conditions precedent to closing the transaction
On completing the due diligence, lawyers advising the investor will be able to identify some key items that the target entity should fulfil before closing the transaction. For instance, the target company may not have complied with some laws.
Some common conditions precedent include:
(1) that target entity should obtain some prescribed licenses;
(2) that it should issue appointment letters to its employees in a prescribed format;
(3) that it should complete the statutory books and pending filings;
(4) that it should obtain necessary corporate approvals and resolutions for entry into the transaction; and
(5) that it should obtain a valuation of shares.
The SPA or the SSA will contain these conditions. A condition precedent has to be fulfilled by the seller after the agreement is executed but prior to closing the transaction. The buyer usually has the option to provide an extension of this period or even to cancel any such compliance as a condition precedent if it is not fundamental to the investment. Common examples of such conditions are the obtaining or renewal of ancillary licenses, such as, the license to operate a lift. However, fundamental conditions such as the license to operate the business or any corporate approvals necessary to undertake the transaction, cannot be dispensed with.
The SSA or SPA will also provide a date by when each of the conditions precedent should be complied with. This is usually called the “long stop” date. The agreement will stipulate that unless the conditions are complied with by that date, the agreement, despite execution, will terminate and there will not be any closing of the agreement.
The “closing” is the point at which the transaction is completed. Shares are transferred, money is paid, the board undergoes changes, and the necessary corporate actions are undertaken to formally make the investor a part of the target entity. Closing is usually undertaken 30 to 60 days after the execution of transaction documents. During this time, the target entity fulfils the stipulated conditions precedent or seeks from the investor, a waiver from fulfilling them.
On the closing date, a board meeting is organised. The main actions undertaken at such meetings include the issue or transfer of shares (as the case may be); the appointment of directors nominated by the investor; and the approval of the amended form of the target’s articles of association and then placing them before the shareholders for final approval. We will discuss the need for such appointments and amendments in a later post on SHAs. The process of closing will also be discussed in detail in subsequent posts.
Following the board meeting, a shareholders’ meeting is also organised. Some matters that are passed by the board, such as an amendment to the company’s articles of association, require shareholders’ meeting for final approval.
Once the closing has been successfully completed, an investor formally becomes a part of the target company. All these aspects are stipulated in the SPA or the SSA usually after the clause on conditions precedent. This clause provides the time and date of closing and also lists out the actions that will be undertaken on the closing date. Since there are numerous actions to be completed, usually, it is provided that upon one last action being completed, all closing items will be deemed to have been completed. This clause also provides the manner in which consideration will flow from the buyer to the seller unless a separate clause on consideration is provided for. There are several ways in which a transfer of shares may take place. For example, it may be in dematerialised form or through the endorsement of share certificates. Consideration may be paid through cash, cheque, or wire transfer. All these aspects are provided for in the clause providing for transfer or issue of shares. Where the investor is a foreign entity, Form FC-GPR in the case of an issue of shares or Form FC-TRS in case of a transfer of shares, need to be filed with the Reserve Bank of India. After all these actions are completed, share certificates are finally issued to the buyer and then the closing is deemed to have been undertaken.
This clause has a large bearing on the completeness of a transaction from a procedural point of view. All items should be carefully listed and completed in accordance with company law and the applicable secretarial standards.
Representations and warranties backed by indemnity
You will remember from studying the law of contracts and sale of goods that representations and warranties are usually made by a seller to a buyer regarding the product that is up for sale. To understand this clause in the SSA or the SPA, you can consider the target company as a ‘product’ that is being sold by its current shareholders. Extensive representations and warranties are made to ensure there will not be any liabilities or adverse consequences for the investor.
They include representations and warranties about the authority and capacity of the parties in entering into the transaction; corporate matters, filings, resolutions and approvals; licenses and approvals for the transaction and business; business of the company; taxation, accounts and records; borrowings; intellectual property; related party transactions; assets; and litigation.
As lawyer advising the investor, you should ensure that your list of representations and warranties should be extensive and cover every aspect in relation to the target company. A lawyer advising the target company will attempt to narrow down the list. For example, if the target company has already provided the investor with some information during the due diligence, you may refrain from providing any representation or warranty on that very aspect as the investor is expected to know the correct state of affairs. Also, if the investor has clearly come to know of any shortfall in the company’s affairs, you may not want to provide a representation or warranty to that item.
These representations and warranties are backed by indemnity. While agreeing to indemnify the investor, the company and its current shareholders promise to save the investor from any loss caused to the investor for any breach, falsity, or shortfall of the representations and warranties. It is important to draft the clause on indemnity carefully to ensure that liability is predictable. A company will want to cap its liability as much as possible while an investor will want to do the opposite.
This brings our discussion on drafting SPAs and SSAs to a close. I will discuss SHAs and disclosure letters in my next post.
Angira Singhvi is a principal associate with Khaitan Sud and Partners and handles general corporate, joint ventures and private equity investments.