北京仲裁委员会

信托中的“明股实债”与仲裁实践\How arbitration tackles disguised debt in trust industry

发布时间: Thu Jun 14 15:30:52 CST 2018

“明股实债”在信托业务中大量存在。然而针对这一概念,目前学界和实务界并无统一定义,对其的规定散见于一些监管机构的规范性文件,如中国证券投资基金业协会和中国银行业监督管理委员会等机构的相关文件对此均有所涉及。大体而言,“明股实债”是指投资方名义上以股权投资的形式入股被投资公司,但实则与融资方事先约定固定的收益回报率,并在特定条件成就后由融资方对标的股权进行赎回,以确保投资方收回本金和收益的一种交易模式。

根据投资回报方式的不同,“明股实债”主要有如下几种交易模式:

第一种是回购或受让模式。这种模式通过在事先签订的股权投资协议或单独签署的股权回购或受让协议中约定,由目标公司股东或实际控制人等资金需求方或关联第三方按照一定溢价率无条件回购或受让投资方股权,保证投资方率先收回本金和投资收益。

第二种是定期分红模式。这种模式仍然是投资方购买目标公司股权,但不论目标公司经营业绩如何,投资方优先或定期从目标公司获得一定金额分红,累计获得的分红为其投资本金与按一定溢价率计算的收益之和,并在满足一定条件或期限届至时将股权退回。

第三种是差额补足模式。这种模式通过由目标公司或其股东、实际控制人或第三方为投资方(或资管产品)的股权投资提供收益差额补足或流动性支持,以弥补投资方在投资期内从目标公司获得的分红或股权转让收益未达到约定收益部分的本息损失。

除了上述几种常见模式之外,在投资者只收取固定回报且不参与目标公司经营管理的对赌协议中,也可能构成“明股实债”。

笔者通过研究大量北仲处理“明股实债”的案例,发现仲裁对此现象秉持较为友好的态度。仲裁庭普遍认为“明股实债”交易模式并不违反法律、行政法规的强制性规定,因此仲裁裁决通常都会尊重合同约定和当事人意思自治,而并不拘泥于所谓性质的认定,基本上也不会主动调整当事人在合同中所约定的权利义务。

以笔者参与和接触的北仲下述案例为例:

股权回购例。在一起股权回购案件中,信托公司与某房地产公司签订《信托合作协议》和《股权回购合同》,信托公司购买某房地产公司所设项目公司% 股权,筹集资金用于项目公司房地产开发建设。合同约定在项目建成之后或者到一定期限未能完成,房地产公司应当向信托公司回购股权,并支付回购价款和收益。项目未能如期完成,最终仲裁庭认定,房地产公司应该回购股权,并支付相应收益。

定期分红例。在北仲办理的多起信托公司要求定期分红案件中,仲裁庭基本都认为,如果是单纯的股权投资,股东红利的获得会与公司经营业绩挂钩,而在此类合同中,双方约定投资人可以获取固定比率的收益回报,显然与通常的股权转让合同有别。定期分红亦不违反法律、行政法规的强制性规定,属于有效约定,故予以认可。

差额补足例。在差额补足案件中,北仲同样认为股东、实际控制人或第三方的差额补足义务约定有效,其并非典型的股权转让合同,对于信托公司的差额补足请求均予以支持。

北仲之所以在信托案件中针对“明股实债”形成上述处理思路,原因可能主要有两个方面:一是仲裁的专业性。仲裁员通常都是某一领域的专家,对于特定行业的认识较为深刻。信托作为一个高端投资行业,通常有着复杂的结构和多变的模式,因此对于专业性的要求极其之高。

二是仲裁的商事性。仲裁所处理者均为商事纠纷,而商事纠纷的重要特质是依循惯例、遵从意思自治。“明股实债”是业内俗称,对其性质并无权威结论,但实践中的纠纷必须得到解决,是从当事人的意思出发,还是从事物的表象出发,很可能会得出截然相反的结论。仲裁的特性决定此种争议解决方式或将最大限度保障当事人的利益,在很大程度上亦能促进特定行业的健康发展。

作者:章杰超,北京仲裁委员会/北京国际仲裁中心仲裁员、北京国际信托有限公司法律事务部副总经理。 北仲高级主管许捷对文章亦有贡献。

“Debt investment in the name of equity investment”(disguised debt) is a way of establishing trust plans in the trust industry.There has been no consensus regarding the exact definition of disguised debt, in theory or in practice. The China Securities Investment Fund Industry Association and the former China Banking Regulatory Commission stipulated some specific rules for regulation. Generally,disguised debt refers to an investment that is classified as equity, but that performs in effect like a debt. Such an arrangement may include a fixed payout and, under the prescribed trigger, a conditional buyout of the shares involved,making the trust investment similar to a guaranteed loan.

Specifically, the route taken to operate disguised debt varies according to its pattern of payout and buyout.

1. The repurchase or transfer of the equity. Parties agree in advance that the original shareholder or the actual owner of the special purpose vehicle(SPV), or companies associated with the investee, will repurchase or buy the equity at a fixed price. This arrangement in an investment contract or in a separated contract guarantees the return of the principal and the margin when the contracts are established.

2. The fixed dividend. Parties agree that,after the completion of the investment,the investors will have priority in the distribution of the dividend,and the dividend will be fixed irrespective of the business performance of the SPV. The cap on the dividend is equal to a prescribed sum of the principal and the margin. The equity that the investors have will be returned to the original owners under prescribed conditions or after certain periods.

3. Independent guarantee. Parties agree that the SPV’s original shareholders, actual owners, or an associated third party, will provide liquidity and guarantee the supplement of any price shortages of the prescribed dividend or repurchase. Such guarantee covers all the loss when the prescribed principal and the margin have not been realized.

Other than the above-mentioned routes, the VAM (value adjustment mechanism)may also be disguised debt when the investors receive a fixed return and not take on any risk associated with the SPV’s business performance.

Based on a study of the BAC/BIAC’s arbitration cases, which involve a validity issue related to disguised debt, the author concludes that, in arbitration, the nature of the investment may not be easily considered as a reason to deny the validity of the transaction. Arbitral tribunals, the primary subject of the author’s research, repeatedly state that the so-called disguised debt does not violate compulsory laws or regulations,and that the parties’ free will in the contract will be fulfilled. In other words, the“disguised” nature of such a transaction will not delegitimize the parties’ agreement,thus providing arbitral tribunals with no reason to rule differently from the contractual wording.

The following BAC/BIAC cases demonstrate this point.

1. The repurchase case. In this typical repurchase case, a trust company and a real estate company entered into a trust investment agreement and a repurchase of equity agreement. The trust company invested for 90% of the shares of the SPV for a real estate developing project. Parties stipulated that the real estate company would repurchase all the shares at the fixed price (equal to the prescribed principle investment and margin) when the construction was completed, or when a certain period had passed. In this arbitration, the tribunal ruled that the real estate company should fulfil its obligation to repurchase and pay the contractual price.

2. The fixed dividend case. In many cases where the trust companies claimed for a fixed dividend, arbitral tribunals ruled that the equity investment normally followed the dividend distribution rules under applicable laws – the amount of the dividend available would be determined by the performance of the company under the PRC Corporation Law. Although those tribunals acknowledged the difference between a fixed dividend arrangement and the regular shareholders’ dividend, they ruled that such a fixed dividend arrangement did not violate compulsory laws or regulations. The parties’ agreement should be honoured.

3. Independent guarantee. In this type of disguised debt, the BAC/BIAC arbitral tribunals also supported the validity of the parties’ agreement.The rules of solving regular equity transfer issues did not apply to the independent guarantee agreement under the disguised debt scenario.The original shareholders, actual owners, or the third parties who made a guarantee beforehand would be held accountable for the trust companies’ claim.

The reasons for the BAC/BIAC approach to tackling the disguised debt in the trust industry may be twofold. The first is industrial expertise. Arbitrators tend to specialize in certain business sectors and thus comprehensively understand the industrial practice. Trust investments usually are at the high end of investment activities, with a complex structure and varying transactional arrangements. Therefore, arbitrators have to maintain an up-to-date understanding of the underlying industrial interests when dispute resolution takes place.

The second reason is the commercial nature of the dispute and the disputants. Current commercial arbitration emphasizes the parties’ autonomy and honours commercial precedents. “Disguised debt”is jargon and has no clear, official definition.The validity of this practice relies upon the adjudicators’ attitude – conservative or liberal – towards innovation in commercial activities. Arbitrators, as well as arbitrations, are capable of safeguarding the parties’ commercial interests in related disputes and encouraging the development of the trust industry.Industrial expertise and the commercial nature of the commercial arbitration guarantee it.

Zhang Jiechao is an arbitrator with Beijing Arbitration Commission/Beijing International Arbitration Centre (BAC/BIAC), and vice general manager of the Beijing International Trust Company legal affairs department. BAC/BIAC’s senior manager, Terence Xu, also contributed to the article.

因本合同引起的或与本合同有关的任何争议,均提请北京仲裁委员会/北京国际仲裁中心按照其仲裁规则进行仲裁。仲裁裁决是终局的,对双方均有约束力。
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