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Blog 2018

2018-11-doc9 Insolvency and groups of companies

On Wednesday 5 December 2018, from 14.00-17.30, Leiden will host a Conference on Rescue of Business in Insolvency Law: Restructuring of Corporate Groups. The conference is organised by the European Law Institute (ELI) and the Business and Liability Research Network (BLRN) of the Leiden Law School. The ELI’s Instrument on Rescue of Business in Insolvency Law has been drafted by Prof Stephan Madaus (Halle-Wittenberg University, Germany) and me (em. prof Leiden University, The Netherlands). The ELI Instrument, backed by a 400-pages report is the starting point for discussions on the treatment of insolvent corporate groups. The co-reporters will introduce the ELI Instrument and the results of this European study with respect to restructuring of corporate groups in Europe. Prof Joeri Vananroye (KU Leuven, Belgium) will discuss Belgian perspectives of corporate restructuring and Prof Reinout Vriesendorp (Leiden University, The Netherlands) will elaborate on issues of director’s liability. Leiden Law School researchers Jessie Pool, Ilya Kokorin and Gert-Jan Boon will present a case study on corporate groups.
The ELI Instrument on Rescue of Business in Insolvency Law was unanimously adopted by the ELI bodies, including its annual assembly in Vienna in September 2017. Based on extensive national reports, Stepahn and me prepared a report with 115 recommendations on the rescue of businesses in distress. In this EU-wide study they also looked into the treatment of corporate groups across Europe. The report is available at https://europeanlawinstitute.eu/fileadmin/user_upload/p_eli/Publications/Instrument_INSOLVENCY.pdf

Registration. The conference will take place on Wednesday 5 December 2018, from 14:00 until 17:30 in the Academiegebouw of the Leiden University (Rapenburg 73, Leiden, The Netherlands). Attendance is free of charge. For Dutch attorneys-at-law who wish to obtain 3 NOvA PE-points for attending this conference, a fee of EUR 250 is applicable.
For the programme, see https://www.europeanlawinstitute.eu/fileadmin/user_upload/p_eli/Projects/Insolvency/Program_ELI_Business_Rescue_Conference_Leiden.pdf
For registration, see https://www.univie.ac.at/eli-application/index.php?sid=19338&lang=en
For payment, in applicable, of fees, see https://europeanlawinstitute.eu/news-events/upcoming-events/leiden-insolvency-2018-fee/
For more information, please contact: businessrescue@europeanlawinstitute.eu.

2018-11-doc8

Zie mijn uitnodiging opgenomen in dit blog (http://www.bobwessels.nl/blog/20-10-doc2-denk-mee-met-5e-druk-wessels-insolventierecht-ii) om reacties/commentaar op mijn conceptteksten voor Wessels Insolventierecht II, 5e druk, te sturen naar: info@bobwessels.nl. Dit is de laatste uitnodiging. Gelieve opmerkinen te sturen voor 20 november 2018. Nu het volgende onderwerp:

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[2574]       Concurrentiebeding; relatiebeding; geheimhoudingsbeding. In het vooruitzicht van een naderend faillissement zal een werknemer naar ander werk omzien. Het kan voorkomen dat hij bedrijfsgevoelige informatie naar een derde of zijn privéadres verstuurt (Rb. Rotterdam 4 december 2015, ECLI: NL:RBROT:2015:8887) of hij, als ex-werknemer, in het algemeen jegens de ex-werkgever concurreert, en wellicht onrechtmatig handelt (Hof Arnhem-Leeuwarden 22 december 2015, ECLI:NL:GHARL:2015:9798). Gedurende de loop van het faillissement kan, bij voortgang van de onderneming, de curator zich op een met de werknemer overeengekomen concurrentiebeding beroepen. Indien de onderneming wordt overgedragen aan een derde rijst de vraag of de curator de werknemer nog wel kan houden aan zijn concurrentiebeding respectievelijk het overeengekomen relatiebeding. Ktg. Rotterdam 20 september 1993, KG 1993/404, oordeelt het belang van de curator bij handhaving van een concurrentiebeding in een detacheringsovereenkomst (wegens de voorgenomen verkoop van een deel van de activiteiten waarmee die overeenkomst verbonden was) minder zwaar dan het belang van de werknemer om vrijelijk een andere dienstbetrekking aan te gaan. In casu had de curator de arbeidsovereenkomst opgezegd en werd de onderneming niet voortgezet. In het voordeel van de (voormalige) werknemer vallen uit: Ktr. Utrecht 12 september 2000, LJN AG3677; JOR 2000/248, nt. Loesberg (naar aanleiding waarvan Tan en Keunen, ArbeidsRecht 2003/5, p. 16 e.v.); Pres. Rb. Roermond 3 oktober 2001, JOR 2001/ 267, nt. Loesberg; Rb. Maastricht (sector kanton) 30 augustus 2006, LJN AY9217; Hof ’s-Hertogenbosch 9 januari 2007, LJN BA9567; JOR 2007/58, nt. Kortmann; RI 2007/7 (naar aanleiding waarvan Bodewes en Jager, ArbeidsRecht 2007, 8/9, p. 43 e.v.); Rb. Zutphen 31 augustus 2007, JOR 2008/22; Rb. Groningen (sector kanton) 14 juni 2001, LJN BQ9222; RI 2011/97; Rb. Dordrecht (vzr.) 20 augustus 2010, LJN BN4507; JOR 2012/26, nt. Orval; Rb. Almelo 30 augustus 2011, LJN BR6386; JOR 2012/27, nt. Orval; Rb. Overijssel 10 juni 2015, ECLI:NL:RBOVE:2015:2793. Daartegenover laat Ktg. Amsterdam 29 april 1998, JOR 2000/131, nt. Loesberg, de belangenafweging ten gunste van de curator uitvallen. In dit geval poogde de curator het bedrijf van de schuldenaar te verkopen, in welke pogingen hij zou worden bemoeilijkt indien hij gegadigden niet tevens kan garanderen dat bepaalde personeelsleden nog gebonden zijn aan een concurrentiebeding. Een belangenafweging ten gunste van de curator: Rb. Amsterdam (vzr.) 13 september 2001, JOR 2002/22, nt. Loesberg; Ktg. ’s-Gravenhage 12 december 2001, LJN AG7785; JOR 2002/42, nt Loesberg; Rb. Limburg (vzr.), JOR 2013/125, nt. Loesberg. Vergelijk Schaink, TvI 2008/18, p. 125, e.v., afl. 2; Van Nuland (2015); Loesberg, TAP 2015/366, die stellig meent dat concurrentiebedingen en geheimhoudingsbedingen door de faillietverklaring niet worden geraakt. Zie verder nog Rb. Rotterdam (vzr.) 8 december 2015, ECLI:NL:RBROT:2015:9232; Rb. Midden-Nederland (vzr.) 7 december 2015, ECLI:NL:RBMNE:2015:9033 (herstel vonnis van Rb. Midden-Nederland (vzr.) 4 december 2015, ECLI:NL:RBMNE:2015:8979); JOR 2016/246, nt. Schaink. Boedelschuld? Schaink, TvI 2014/2, geeft het voorbeeld van een werknemer die door de curator aan een non-concurrentiebeding wordt gehouden, maar hij aanspraak op een vergoeding heeft bedongen voor het geval de werkgever hem ontslaat. Schaink kwalificeert de vergoeding als boedelschuld, maar met Steneker en Tekstra, FIP 2015/368, twijfel ik, omdat zij niet binnen het door HR 19 april 2013, NJ 2013/291; JOR 2013/224 (Koot Beheer/Tideman q.q.) (zie par. 2466c e.v.) verstrekte bronnenraamwerk voor boedelschulden valt.

Concurrentiebeding kwalitatief? Zie ook Loesberg, Insolad Jaarboek 1999, p. 25, die erop wijst dat art. 7:663 BW toepassing mist, omdat de curator de onderneming vervreemdt. Deze zienswijze houdt echter geen rekening met het feit dat ook de verkrijger een eigen belang bij handhaving van het beding zal hebben. De rechten uit het concurrentiebeding zullen veelal kwalitatief verbonden zijn aan de onderneming, zodat zij op voet van art.6:251 BW in beginsel van rechtswege overgaan op degene die de onderneming onder bijzondere titel verkrijgt. Zo ook Asser/Hartkamp & Sieburgh 6-III 2014/543. In Werknemer en insolventie. Rapport 2015, p. 36, wordt deze opvatting verworpen met een beroep op de hierboven reeds aangehaalde uitspraak Rb. Dordrecht (vzr) 20 augustus 2010, JOR 2012/26, nt. Orval, waarin is geoordeeld dat er, gelet op het arrest HR 20 april 1990, NJ 1990/729, nt. Stein, van kwalitatieve verbondenheid van het concurrentiebeding aan de onderneming van de (voormalig) werkgever geen sprake. Ook Schaink (2017), p. 154 e.v., keert zich tegen mijn opvatting. Hij noemt twee argumenten: (i) omdat de persoon van de schuldenaar (werknemer) bij een arbeidsovereenkomst een doorslaggevende rol speelt, is het recht om van de werknemer te kunnen vorderen dat hij niet concurreert niet een voor overgang vatbaar recht, en (ii) omdat in geval van faillissement de regels inzake overgang van rechtswege van rechten en plichten van de werknemer niet van toepassing zijn lijkt dit ook een overgang ex art. 6:251 BW te blokkeren. De beide argumenten zijn betwistbaar. Het ‘persoonlijke’ element geeft niet de doorslag (voorzover het al betekenis heeft; niet alle werknemers gebonden aan een concurrentiebeding zijn ‘uniek’), maar de verbondenheid van het beding met een thans aan de schuldeiser toebehorend goed (in casu de overgegane onderneming). Ten aanzien van het tweede argument: een door Europees recht geïnspireerde regeling (in art. 7:666 e.v. BW geïmplementeerd) kan een uitleg van een Nederlandse wetsbepaling in het contractenrecht niet voorschrijven; zij kan hooguit zijdelings van enige betekenis zijn. Bij dit tweede argument wordt voorts uit het oog verloren dat Nederland (in vergelijking bijvoorbeeld met Engeland, Frankrijk, België en Duitsland) de enige lidstaat is die de Europese regeling op overgang van een onderneming tijdens faillissement buiten toepassing heeft gelaten, vergelijk Hufman, diss. (2015), p. 274. Schaink (2017), p. 155, weerlegt deze argumenten niet. Hij merkt alleen op dat de doorstartpraktijk tot op heden ‘… geen (zichtbare) neiging [toont] de overdracht van het concurrentiebeding als kwalitatief recht verder uit te proberen’. Wat de praktijk doet of nalaat lijkt me irrelevant voor de juridische kwalificatie van een bepaalde rechtsfiguur. Loesberg, Insolad Jaarboek 2018, p. 229 e.v., geeft toe dat hij de ‘constructie’ om een concurrentiebeding als kwalitatief recht te duiden tot nu toe in eerdere publikaties niet heeft onderkend. Hij zou art. 6:251 BW ook willen toepassen bij een ‘aftroggelbeding’ en een geheimhoudingsbeding.

2018-11-doc7 Now give me money

Many creditors in insolvencies are inspired by the Beatles’ song of 35 years ago: “Now give me money (That’s what I want)”. In European cross-border cases these creditors are assisted by Chapter IV of the recast European Insolvency Regulation (EIR 2015). It comprises Articles 53 to 55 specifying which information must be provided to the creditors and the rules concerning the lodgement of claims. These provisions apply to the main insolvency proceedings opened as well as to any territorial (secondary and independent) proceedings. The articles mentioned contain autonomous European rules relating to creditors’ claims and displace all national procedural rules on matters as the right to lodge claims, the duty to be informed, or the languages to be used.  
The recast Regulation has overriden the former regulation’s rules of domestic law requiring that a creditor be legally represented in the process of lodging claims. Furthermore, standard forms for the notification of information concerning the opening of insolvency proceedings and the lodging of claims have been introduced in Articles 54 and 55 of the EIR 2015, and a minimum period for the filing of claims by foreign creditors has been included in Article 55(6).
The latter says that a claim shall be lodged within the period stipulated by the law of the member state of the opening of the insolvency proceedings. The minimum period for lodging, in the case of a foreign creditor, shall not be less than 30 days following the publication of the opening of insolvency proceedings in the insolvency register of the state where they are opened. The recast revision aims to address the general finding that, in cross-border cases, time periods prescribed by the domestic law of the proceedings are too short.
In all, the EIR 2015 has some small improvements. These are minor steps, however they should reduce the costs of filing claims abroad and these should work particularly to the benefit of small creditors who are often deterred by the disproportionately high costs from lodging their claims abroad.
As indicated, it’s do it yourself. Lodging a claim can be done by the claimant (creditor) and by a legal representative, but the latter is not mandatory. The Regulation does not prevent insolvency practitioners from lodging claims on behalf of certain groups of creditors, for example employees, where the national law so provides.
Who can lodge a claim?
Article 53 provides that any “foreign” creditor has the right to lodge his claim in any pending insolvency proceedings. A “foreign” creditor is (see Article 2(12) of the EIR 2015) a creditor which has its habitual residence, domicile or registered office in a member state other than the state of the opening of proceedings, including the tax authorities and social security authorities of member states. The gate that Article 53 creates is wide: the creditor may lodge claims by any means of communication, which are accepted by the law of the state of the opening of the proceedings. This open door reflects the core pillar of equal treatment between creditors. Under EU law discrimination on grounds of nationality, including grounds of residence, is prohibited.
The gate is also wide because any creditor may lodge in any main or secondary proceedings, a mechanism referred to as multi-cross filing. In practice, multi-cross filing can be an administrative nightmare, but necessary as long as applicable priority rules in main and secondary proceedings are different.
And what about foreign creditors who do not reside in the EU? Here, it is the national law – including private international law – of the member state in which the proceedings are pending that determines the answer to whether creditors who have their habitual residence outside the EU may lodge their claims in the proceedings.
There is a delicate balance of law applicable. Article 53 establishes the aforementioned “European-based” right, but Article 7(2)(h) of the EIR 2015 determines that the national law of the state of the opening of the proceedings will govern such matters as the time limit for lodging a claim, the effect of a late lodgement, the method of verification, the claim’s admissibility, the validity of the claim or certain payments of certain costs associated with this verification process.   
The EU is rather unique in that Article 53 of the EIR 2015 provides the right to lodge claims also to tax authorities and social security authorities of member states. This principle breaks with the so-called “revenue rule”, generally followed in nearly all nations, that tax debts owed by the insolvent debtor to any foreign state are not enforceable in (insolvency) courts, and therefore are not provable in the state in which the insolvency proceedings are pending.
The result of the rule of automatic recognition in the EIR is that, for instance, the German tax authorities will accept that, for an insolvent debtor who has a tax debt in Germany of around 1000 euros the consequences of it being in a Dutch debt rescheduling insolvency proceeding (schuldsaneringregeling natuurlijke personen) are that after three years, all claims, including the German tax claim, will be unenforceable (See District Court ‘s-Hertogenbosch 29 January 2007). The result is that a “natural obligation” exists towards the German tax authority (Article 358 of the Dutch Bankruptcy Act). So any payment after the three year period will not be regarded as a gift (schenking).
Article 53 does not specify the nature of the claims of the tax authorities and social security authorities. It is formulated wide enough to allow claims related to direct or indirect tax, including VAT or local taxes. It has been submitted that a “tax” claim does not include certain fines or financial penalties. The prevailing view seems different though: Article 53 establishes the right of foreign creditors to lodge claims because such lodgment cannot be disallowed on the grounds that the creditor is situated in another member state or that the claim is governed by the public law of another Member State.
Furthermore, it follows from the text of Article 53 that the public policy defence in the EIR 2015 at Article 33 cannot be triggered against recognition or enforcement of a judgment within which such claims have been submitted. The same Dutch court noted that the German tax authorities would not invoke the public policy defence against the legal consequences of a Dutch debt rescheduling for a natural person. The German tax authority had only lodged its claim in the Dutch estate for verification purposes.
It may be the case, based on the domestic insolvency law of a member state, that the insolvency practitioner or a creditor whose claim has already been verified, has the right to challenge the admissibility of a foreign tax claim. Article 32(2) of the EIR 2015 provides that the recognition and enforcement of judgments other than those referred to in Article 32(1) shall be governed by the Brussels I Regulation “provided that that Regulation is applicable”.
From Article 32(2) of the EIR 2015 it can be taken that the recognition and enforcement of these types of judgments are subject to the Brussels I Regulation. These judgments include: (i) actions with regard to the existence or the validity of a claim under general law (e.g. a contract) or relating to its amount, or (ii) claims which have been lodged, but are contested, such as the Dutch claim validation proceedings (renvooiprocedure). However, tax claims are excluded from the Brussels I Regulation.
Now, which court has jurisdiction to decide on the matter? One line of thinking is that the competent court should be the court of the state from which the tax claim originates, as another court generally will not have jurisdiction to decide on “public” claims, because it would be contrary to the conventions providing cross-border assistance in case of enforcement of tax claims to have the matter decided by the court in which proceedings have been opened. The EIR 2015 does not have a clear rule and any controversy is likely to go to the Court of Justice of the EU.
As the foreign tax authority has a discretion to make use of Article 53 and the rule of equal treatment of creditors is paramount in light of the Regulation’s objective of improving the effectiveness and efficiency of insolvency proceedings having cross-border effects (recitals 3 and 8), a case can be made that the courts of the member state in which the insolvency proceeding is pending will have international jurisdiction. The rule, however, is that a creditor is entitled to lodge claims in the proceedings of his choice, and he may even do so in several proceedings. As the text refers to any “creditor” without further specification, creditors with a preference and creditors without a preference – according to the national legal system – may lodge therefore a “non-preferenced" creditor claim in member state A, and a “preferenced” claim in state B.
Article 53 only provides the basis for lodging a claim, but it does not mention the applicability of certain preferences that the law governing the proceedings accords to claims of a certain nature. The majority finding in literature is that a tax claim has the status of an unsecured claim. Some authors, on the other hand, refer to the Directives on reorganisation and winding up of credit institutions (2001/24) and insurance undertakings (2001/17), which establish a principle of equal treatment for claims of member states’ public authorities: these claims shall be treated in the same way and accorded the same ranking as claims of an equivalent nature lodged by public authorities of the member state of the opening.
With an eye on Article 7(2)(i) of the EIR 2015, according to which the rules governing the ranking of claims are determined by the lex concursus, the “equal treatment”’ of all claims from member states relating to tax or social security can only be decided by the national legislator. On this topic the Court of Justice of the EU can provide certainty.
In the meantime, in member states where tax authorities know that their claims have a high ranking, they will prefer to open secondary proceedings.

References
Now give me money (That’s what I want), With the Beatles, 1963
District Court ‘s-Hertogenbosch 29 January 2007, LJN AZ7355.

This is a slightly adapted version of a regular column I am writing for Global Restructuring Review (GRR) on a topic of cross-border restructuring and insolvency in a European context. GRR is a subscription-only publication, but here is a link to the full piece, which appeared in July 2018 on GRR’s website at http://globalrestructuringreview.com

2018-11-doc 6 Practical guide to insolvency litigation

This book, Insolvency Litigation: A Practical Guide, indeed is practical guide. Two years after the publication of its first edition, the second edition is out. A group of contributors, led by the book’s editors Sarah McLennan and Adam Deacock provide a comprehensive commentary on the process, procedure and (litigious) issues faced by practitioners conducting insolvency related litigation. The second edition particularly was necessary given the changes in the UK of the Insolvency Rules 2016, and the new 2018-Practice Direction on Insolvency Proceedings. The editors claim that there is nothing else on the market that presents a similar packet of legal knowhow, filled with practical guidance to the most important court applications on this specialist area of insolvency practice. As a continental European, indeed, similar books in e.g. Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands are absent.
The treatment per theme is short but profound. In 26 chapters all matters on how to apply, who is allowed to apply, which court has jurisdiction, how to issue an application, evidence, case management, costs, preparing for hearings and appeals are touched upon, with clear references to the applicable law and rules throughout, and including references to over 1000 court cases. This is a clear reflection of a legal system build on precedents. Even the way judges are addressed, different for District judges and High Court judges, is explained. The result is a practical, focused coverage of the mechanics of litigation in insolvency proceedings, completely updated in line with the new Rules 2016 and 2018 practices.
Jurisdiction under the EU Insolvency Regulation 2105 is explained, be it without the working of the rather complex presumptions set out in Article 3 EIR 2015. It is argued that ‘any company’, in case its COMI is in the UK, can be wound up, with the exclusion of a Scottish company, whose COMI is in England and Wales. It must be wound up in Scotland. Because Article 120 Insolvency Act (as submitted) says so, or does the exclusion applies to all companies with registered seats in the EU?  Some 35 pages cover cross-border issues, with a combined treatment of the EIR 2015 and CBIR 2006, the English version of the UNCITRAL Model Law. Rightly, it clarifies that presently, as acknowledged  by the late 2017 version of the Chancery Guide, three sets of guidelines for cross-border court-to-court communications. A handy checklist of requirements for a recognition application under the CBIR finalises this chapter.  
The book provides detailed guidance on court practice and procedure and the principles of law relevant to insolvency litigation. Mediation in (pre-)insolvency conflicts as we see in pilots of several Dutch courts does not seem to have a role. Some more general topics are covered as well, such as funding of litigation by creditors or third parties and the position of an IOH, the duties owed to an IOH and how he or she can enforce these, conduction public or private examinations or how to challenge an IOH or the explanation of rules regarding prohibited names for businesses that are run by the same persons that were in charge of an insolvent company (‘phoenix companies’). In all, a detailed guidance of the whole armoury of aspects of litigation, including litigation against an insolvent defendant, limitation, costs and funding issues, litigation by office holders and their approach to litigation and the types of application that arise in insolvency cases.
The editors hope the book is a useful resource for the profession at large. I do not see a reason to doubt this, rather would like to signal professionals in other jurisdictions to take a good look at it and draft a similar guidance for their insolvency practices. The book concludes with an index, prepared using Sweet and Maxwell’s Legal Taxonomy, explaining: 'Readers may find some minor differences between terms used in the text and those which appear in the index.' Eh? Doesn’t this make the main text an obscure picture? Is this a ‘robot’ entering into the process of writing a manuscript for a book?

Sarah McLennan, Adam Deacock (eds.), Insolvency Litigation: A Practical Guide, 2nd Edition, Sweet & Maxwell, ISBN  9780414066366

Book information: https://www.sweetandmaxwell.co.uk/Catalogue/ProductDetails.aspx?productid=30808140&recordid=7493

Note: this book I received free of charge from the publisher with the request to announce it or to review it on my blog at www.bobwessels.nl.

2018-11-doc5 Wedn 5 December Leiden - Restructuring of Corporate Groups

The European Law Institute (ELI) and Business and Liability Research Network (BLRN) of the Leiden Law School will organise a conference on Restructuring of corporate groups in the afternoon of 5 December 2018. The ELI’s Instrument on Rescue of Business in Insolvency Law drafted under the leadership of Prof Em Bob Wessels (Leiden University, The Netherlands) and Prof Stephan Madaus (Halle-Wittenberg University, Germany) is the starting point for discussions on the treatment of insolvent corporate. The 400-pages report acompanying the ELI Instument can be found at https://www.europeanlawinstitute.eu/fileadmin/user_upload/p_eli/Publications/Instrument_INSOLVENCY.pdf. The co-reporters Bob Wessels and Stephan Madaus will introduce the ELI Instrument and the results of this European study with respect to restructuring of corporate groups in Europe. Prof Joeri Vananroye (KU Leuven, Belgium) will discuss Belgian perspectives of corporate restructuring and Prof Reinout Vriesendorp (Leiden University, The Netherlands) will elaborate on issues of director’s liability. Leiden Law School researchers Jessie Pool, Ilya Kokorin and Gert-Jan Boon will present a case study on corporate groups. The ELI Instrument on Rescue of Business in Insolvency Law has been unanimously adopted by the ELI bodies in September 2017. Based on extensive national reports, the reporters prepared a report with some 115 recommendations on the rescue of businesses in distress. In this EU-wide study they also looked into the treatment of corporate groups across Europe. It will be published by Oxford University Press.
Conference information: the conference will take place on Wednesday 5 December 2018, from 14:00 until 17:30 in the Academiegebouw of the Leiden University (Rapenburg 73, Leiden, The Netherlands). Attendance is free of charge. For Dutch attorneys-at-law who wish to obtain 3 NOvA PE-points for attending this conference, a fee of EUR 250 is applicable. For more information on programme and registration, see https://www.europeanlawinstitute.eu/news-events/upcoming-events/events-sync/news/conference-on-rescue-of-business-in-insolvency-law/?tx_news_pi1%5Bcontroller%5D=News&tx_news_pi1%5Baction%5D=detail&cHash=05b5b4ae6bb63e427da0aba85d0ebe58 or contact businessrescue@europeanlawinstitute.eu.