By Richard Stuart-Turner, Friday 12 April 2019
Sequana has denied allegations made by lawyers representing employees at Arjowiggins’ Papiers Couchés and Le Bourray operations that accused the group of moving around €20m (£17.3m) illicitly.
A number of French news outlets have reported on the contents of the letter sent by the lawyers to Sequana chief executive Pascal Lebard on Monday (8 April).
It called into question the management of the Arjowiggins case, which on 29 March resulted in the liquidation of the Papiers Couchés site in Bessé-sur-Braye, with the loss of 568 jobs, and the partial recovery of the Bourray site in Saint-Mars-la-Brière, which is thought to have retained 112 out of 270 staff.
Emballages reported yesterday that the letter stated that “movements of funds” of approximately €20m (£17.3m) occurred “between the date of cessation payments of the two companies and the opening of insolvency proceedings in their regard, for the benefit of Antalis and the Arjowiggins Sourcing company”.
According to the lawyers, the commercial code prohibits “payments made from the date of cessation of payments when those who have dealt with the debtor became aware of the cessation of payments”.
They said: “This organised looting of the cash of Arjowiggins Papiers Couchés and Arjowiggins Le Bourray severely hampered the continuation of business activity following the opening of the bankruptcy and irreparably jeopardised the chances of finding a buyer.”
Sequana issued a statement yesterday evening to formally deny these allegations.
It said: “The financial flows between Arjowiggins Papiers Couchés and Arjowiggins Le Bourray, on the one hand, and the companies in the Sequana group involved, on the other hand, are current and customary flows occurring under normal conditions, mainly for the purchase of raw materials essential to the operation of the Arjowiggins Papiers Couchés and Arjowiggins Le Bourray factories and also under distribution agreements in place for many years.”
In a second letter, representatives for Arjowiggins’ staff accused Bpifrance, a 15.4% shareholder in Sequana, of having implemented a strategy to “empty the group of its industrial tools (...) to concentrate on the distribution business operated within the Antalis branch”.
In particular they denounced loans granted by Bpifrance to Sequana at “ruinous interest rates of 10 to 14%” and said the bank had “blatant responsibility” in the “disaster” suffered.
In a third letter, staff representatives appealed to Bruno Le Maire, Minister of the Economy & Finance in France. They said they “deplore his lack of commitment to the file” and called on him to find a financing solution to the recovery project.
On 21 March Sequana’s safeguarding procedure was converted into a bankruptcy filing that is due to be heard by the Commercial Court of Nanterre on 18 May.
It is understood that Sequana felt unable to submit a safeguarding plan as it is appealing against a €135m disputed dividend it had been ordered to pay to British American Tobacco (BAT) by the London Court of Appeal.