Cairn Energy takes on India’s government

FACED WITH recalcitrant sovereign counterparties, foreign investors and companies occasionally take drastic action. A picaresque example of the genre occurred in 2012, when Elliott Management, a buccaneering American hedge fund which held distressed Argentine bonds, seized a handsome tall ship belonging to Argentina’s navy. Elliott’s aggressive tactics ultimately paid off, and others have followed suit. In December a court in the British Virgin Islands ordered hotels in New York and Paris owned by Pakistan International Airlines to be used to settle a claim against Pakistan’s government by a Canadian-Chilean copper company. French courts have recently ruled that a stiffed creditor could seize a business jet belonging to the government of Congo-Brazzaville while it was being serviced at a French airport, as well as $30m from a bank account of the country’s state oil company.
The latest to contemplate such measures is Cairn Energy. The Scottish firm’s target is India. In 2004 it made a huge oil discovery in Rajasthan. Three years later it listed its Indian assets on the Mumbai stock exchange. Five years after that India passed a retroactive tax law and billed Cairn $1.6bn for the reorganisation tied to the flotation. The state then expropriated and liquidated Cairn’s remaining shares in the Indian entity. Distrusting Indian courts,…
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