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COVID-19 Pandemic Act COVInsAG: Insolvency law consequences of the crisis for creditors

One of the most important parts of the COVID-19 pandemic law, which was hastily enacted by the legislator in March, is the regulations it contains for the temporary modification of insolvency law. The COVID-19 Insolvency Suspension Act COVInsAG, which is located under Art. 1, not only temporarily changes the obligation to file for insolvency due to the crisis, but also addresses the risks of rescission for creditors who assist their customers in the crisis.

Suspension of the obligation to file for insolvency

§ 1 COVInsAG in conjunction with Art. 6 (1) COVID-19 Pandemic Law suspends the obligation to file an insolvency petition pursuant to section 15a InsO and section 42 BGB for the period from 1 March to 30 September 2020. This provision does not apply if the insolvency maturity is not based on the COVID-19 pandemic or if there is no prospect of eliminating an inability to pay (possibly also due to a crisis). The law also provides assistance in interpreting these (negative) preconditions by including a presumption rule according to which it is generally presumed that they do not exist if the debtor was not already insolvent on 31 December 2019.

Consequences for the avoidance risk

According to the previous case law of the Federal Court of Justice (BGH), the risk of rescission increases in the event of a subsequent amendment of contractual relationships, especially if such adjustments are made in order to accommodate the business partner in the event of financial difficulties. According to BGH case law, the admission of the business partner not being able to make payments due in an amount relevant under insolvency law indicates the intention of the creditor to disadvantage the creditor and therefore entails the considerable risk of avoidance of insolvency pursuant to § 133 InsO. Even before the occurrence of the current exceptional situation, the rescission reform in 2017, which PASCHEN played a decisive role in initiating, introduced regulations for the privileged treatment of payment agreements and clarification of the status of so-called cash transactions.

Against the background of the experience of the reform, in connection with the adoption of the current crisis law, at the suggestion of the umbrella organizations – PASCHEN was consulted by the DIHK in this connection – in connection with the suspension of the obligation to file for insolvency, regulations were also made which are intended to benefit creditors who assist their contractual partners in (corona) distress.

Pursuant to Section 2 COVInsAG, not only services which relate to the return of a new loan granted during the suspension period and collateral provided for this purpose in the period until 30 September 2023 (para. 1 no. 2) are generally exempt from the risk of avoidance, but pursuant to nos. 3 and 4 also other legal acts and in particular the direct payment or other compensation of claims for the provision of services or delivery of goods as well as measures.

This provision even grants protection against avoidance for some so-called “incongruent” legal acts, namely

  • services in lieu of or on account of performance;
  • payments by a third party on the instruction of the debtor;
  • the provision of collateral other than that originally agreed, if this is not more valuable;
  • the (subsequent) shortening of payment terms and
  • the granting of payment facilities.

The only exception to these privileges is the case where the creditor was aware that the debtor’s restructuring and financing efforts were not suitable for eliminating an insolvency that had occurred. In order to contain uncertainties in the interpretation of these provisions, detailed explanations are provided in the explanatory memorandum. This is stated below (page 23f.):

„Die Regelung (§ 1 Abs. 1 Nr. 2) schützt die Geber von neuen Krediten, einschließlich von Warenkrediten und anderen Formen der Leistungserbringung auf Ziel. Sie sollen nicht befürchten müssen, zur Rückgewähr zwischenzeitlicher Leistungen verpflichtet zu werden oder den Zugriff auf die bei der Vergabe der neuen Kredite gewährten Sicherheiten zu verlieren, wenn die Bemühungen um eine Rettung des Unternehmens der Kreditnehmerin oder des Kreditnehmers scheitern und deshalb doch ein Insolvenzverfahren eröffnet wird.“

And to number four:

„Ein Bedürfnis für einen Anfechtungsschutz besteht auch in bestimmten Fällen, in denen kein neuer Kredit im Sinne der Nummer 2 vorliegt. Dies betrifft z. B. Vertragspartner von Dauerschuldverhältnissen wie Vermieter sowie Leasinggeber, aber auch Lieferanten. Wenn solche Vertragspartner befürchten müssten, erhaltene Zahlungen im Falle des Scheiterns der Sanierungsbemühungen des Krisenunternehmens mit anschließender Eröffnung des Insolvenzverfahrens aufgrund einer Anfechtung zurückzahlen zu müssen, wären sie geneigt, die Vertragsbeziehung auf dem schnellsten Wege zu beenden, was wiederum die Sanierungsbemühungen vereiteln würde (…).“

“Außerdem kann eine Anfechtung weiterhin erfolgen, wenn dem anderen Teil bekannt war, dass die Sanierungs- und Finanzierungsbemühungen der Schuldnerin oder Schuldners nicht zur Beseitigung der Insolvenzreife geeignet gewesen sind. Die Beweislast dafür liegt bei demjenigen, der sich auf die Anfechtbarkeit berufen möchte. Der andere Teil muss sich nicht davon überzeugen, dass die Schuldnerin oder der Schuldner geeignete Sanierungs- und Finanzierungsbemühungen entfaltet; nur die nachgewiesene positive Kenntnis vom Fehlen von Sanierungs- und Finanzierungsbemühungen oder von der offensichtlichen Ungeeignetheit der Sanierungs- und Finanzierungsbemühungen würde den Anfechtungs-schutz entfallen lassen. Ausdrücklich geschützt werden auch Leistungen an Erfüllungs statt oder erfüllungshalber, Forderungsabtretungen statt Barzahlungen und Zahlungen durch Dritte auf Anweisung der Schuldnerin oder des Schuldners, weil solche der Leistung des Geschuldeten wirtschaftlich gleichstehen. Auch die Auswechslung einer Sicherheit ohne Erhöhung des Sicherheitswerts wird geschützt, um die betriebswirtschaftliche sinnvolle Verwendung von Sicherungsgegenständen durch die Schuldnerin oder den Schuldner nicht zu behindern. Der Schutz wird auf die Gewährung von Zahlungserleichterungen erstreckt, weil solche die Liquidität des Unternehmens stärken und insoweit ähnlich wirken wie die Gewährung neuer Kredite. Der Schutz einer Verkürzung von Zahlungszielen verfolgt demgegenüber den Zweck, Vertragspartnern einen weitergehenden Anreiz für eine Fortsetzung der Vertragsbeziehungen zu bieten. Wenn z. B. eine Lieferantin oder ein Lieferant betriebsnotwendiger Bauteile nur dann zur Weiterbelieferung des schuldnerischen Unternehmens bereit ist, wenn die bisher in einem Rahmenvertrag vereinbarten Zahlungsfristen verkürzt werden, sollte er nicht allein deshalb zu einer vollständigen Vertragsbeendigung gedrängt werden, weil er sich durch die Vertragsanpassung Anfechtungsrisiken aussetzen würde“.

To put it plainly: virtually all righteous efforts to assist customers in need as a result of the crisis are privileged under insolvency law. This also includes all legitimate measures taken to protect themselves.

Conclusion

This means that payments based on contracts concluded between March 1 and September 30, 2020 are generally not considered to be disadvantageous to creditors even in the event of subsequent insolvency and are therefore largely rescindable.

Both the wording of the law and the explanatory memorandum to § 2 also indicate – and this is the current state of the insolvency law discussion – that payments for transactions concluded earlier, which are obtained during the suspension period after the measures set out in § 2 para. 1 have been taken, can probably only be contested under special circumstances. Namely, if the subsequent insolvency administrator can prove that the creditor had positive knowledge of the lack of restructuring and financing efforts or of their obvious unsuitability at the time of receipt of the payments.

Crisis-related concessions by creditors are thus massively privileged in insolvency (avoidance) law. It is important, however, to establish whether the respective measures actually falls within the scope of the special provision of the crisis law and whether there are not circumstances that would impose the lack of prospects of financial recovery.

Outlook

The Act contains an authorisation for the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection to extend the suspension period to 31 March 2021 at the latest if necessary. This would also have a direct impact on the described creditor situation.

We will keep you updated about further developments. Please do not hesitate to contact us for further questions in this context. We wish for everyone that this current crisis can be overcome as quickly as possible and the most important thing: stay healthy!

 

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