Corbin & King push back High Court challenge over debt repayment

The owner of London’s Wolseley restaurant has fended off a High Court challenge to a proposed £38million bailout, marking the latest round in a bitter battle for control of the upmarket restaurant group.

In an unusual hearing in London on Tuesday, a subsidiary of Thai hotel operator Minor International – the biggest shareholder in Corbin & King – tried to stop the restaurant group from repaying a debt to the Thai company after Minor tried to call him.

Judge Foxton, however, said he was “not persuaded” to grant the injunction and would set out his reasoning in a decision on Wednesday.

The judge’s decision comes after a bitter dispute between Corbin & King and Minor, which forced the group into administration in January, saying it faced “major liquidity constraints”.

Minor had asked Corbin & King to repay nearly £34million in loans within 24 hours after a long-running dispute during the pandemic erupted. He then appointed administrators.

The Thai group has a 74% stake in Corbin & King, which owns high-end restaurants in London including The Wolseley, The Delaunay and Brasserie Zédel, known to be popular with celebrities, businessmen and politicians .

MI Squared, a subsidiary of Minor, had requested an injunction preventing the co-founders and partners of the group, Jeremy King and Chris Corbin, from accepting financial support from the American investment fund Knighthead Capital Management to reimburse their biggest investor, at the grounds that it was a breach of their shareholders’ agreement.

King has been in talks with Knighthead for over a year in a bid to oust Minor from his ownership of the company following a series of disagreements over how the group should be run.

The legal clash came days before a legal moratorium protecting individual Corbin & King restaurants from insolvency expired.

Only the group itself is in administration. The administrator of FRP Advisory restructuring specialist Corbin & King has received up to 30 expressions of interest across the company, according to lawyers involved in the case.

Fraser Campbell, the lawyer representing MI Squared, has accused Corbin & King of trying to ‘disrupt an orderly administration’ by pursuing a deal ‘with an agency . . . that it is perfectly clear that it wishes to support them in the battle for the company”.

Campbell said it was “not at all clear. . . how will this new transaction actually have an effect on rescuing companies or protecting the interests of creditors”. He added that Minor was “satisfied” not to be repaid the debt.

In a witness statement, King said the owners of The Wolseley and the group’s other restaurants could waive their leases if the moratorium was lifted. He said there was “no doubt in my mind or in the mind of the other C&K director that if the subsidiaries were – as Minor wishes – placed in administration, it would be disastrous for all of them. the people concerned”.

Barrister Nigel Dougherty, representing King, Corbin and restaurant group chief executive Zuleika Fennell, said the terms of Knighthead’s loan were “manifestly better than the terms on which [Minor] extended its debt.

According to King’s statement, Knighthead offered to buy Corbin & King’s assets for £45million in February as well as offer a loan to refinance all debts, including monies owed to Minor, to avoid insolvency.

Doherty said Knighthead had “confidence” in King and Corbin and was “ready to work with them” in an effort to “move successfully forward”.

King declined to comment.

Marion Walsh-Hédouin, vice president of Minor, said the judgment “does not solve anything”, with the restaurant group replacing one secured creditor with another.

“As today’s evidence has shown, Mr King recognizes that Corbin & King is insolvent and needs strong financial backing to secure its future, which Minor International has always been prepared for and offered to many times to provide,” she added.

Tana T. Thorsen