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Industry News

U.S. Export-Import Bank May Call Indian Loans

LCG, Sept. 10, 2001--The US Export-Import Bank, one of the biggest lenders to Enron Corp.'s Dabhol power project near Bombay, India, has indicated it may call in loan guarantees from Indian banks if a legal dispute over the plant is not resolved, the Financial Times reported this morning.

The Washington-based export credit agency has advanced $298.2 million to Enron's Dabhol PowerCo., which is owed $45 million in unpaid bills by its sole local customer, the Maharashtra State ElectricityBoard.

Enron's relations with the MSEB have collapsed since the utility rescinded its contract earlier this year and refused to accept power from the 2,184 megawatt plant in Maharashtra state on India's west coast.

Enron has said it wants out of the Dabhol project and out of India, and is willing to accept $1 billion for its 65 percent interest in the plant -- about what it has invested. The total investment in Dabhol of $2.9 billion makes the project India's largest single foreign investment.

About a third of the $2 billion in debt raised by Dabhol to finance the project was from foreign lenders, including Bank of America, Citibank, ABN Amro and Overseas Private Investment Corp. of the U.S., the paper said. Indian banks' exposure is $1.4 billion, including guarantees of foreign banks' loans.

The U.S. Export-Import Bank's threat to invoke loan guarantees by a syndicate of five Indian banks, including Industrial Development Bank of India, the country's largest long-term lender, is contained in a petition to a Bombay court, the Financial Times reported. The U.S. bank wants to be allowed to argue in court on behalf of Dabhol, which is contesting MSEB's choice of a local arbitrator to resolve the payments dispute.

Contracts agreed to by the MSEB in the mid-1990s specify that disputes are to be settled in international arbitration, but now the electricity board want the final decision to be made by a brand new regulatory body, the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission. It's as if the manager of a baseball team insisted that the umpires for an important game be members of his family.

The U.S. bank's move, follows a similar initiative in July by 11 foreign banks with loans of $440 million to Dabhol, and is designed to persuade the Bombay court to uphold the arbitration procedure laid out in Enron's contract with MSEB. In its petition, U.S. Export-Import Bank, which has loans and guarantees totaling $1.2 billion in India, says a safe and internationally recognized arbitration process was a key factor in its decision to advance the loan to Dabhol.

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