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Results of the Second Intercollegiate Competition on Data Protection – The New Frontier

The results of the “Second Intercollegiate Competition on Data Protection – The New Frontier” are out.

The Essay competition was devised with the intent of apprising law students with the regulatory developments in the field of data protection. We are glad to have received an overwhelmingly positive response to this initiative.

The winners of the Competition are:

1. Gayatri Puthran – Jindal Global Law School
2. Shashank Saurabh – National University of Study and Research in Law
3. Anisha Singh – Chanakya National Law University
We would like to congratulate all the winners and wish them all the very best.
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The Head and Tail of Side Letters in Alternative Investment Funds

This article was first published by IAAFI – Indian Association of Alternative Investment Funds

A side letter is a document or a letter that is ancillary to another existing contract. In investment world, Side letter would mean something over and above your general terms and conditions that are binding under the investment product agreement i.e. PMS or AIF or any other investment vehicle.

Executing side letters with contributors has become an increasing phenomenon in the Alternative Investment Fund (AIF) documentation space. While the genesis of the practice seems to have stemmed from the need to have supplementary, clarificatory terms and sometimes preferential rights to large or strategic investors in a fund, the modality is now being used at a much higher frequency. The general dicta of avoiding side letters, however, prevail for various reasons of maintaining fairness, integrity and transparency, concerns around legality and enforceability. In this article we have explored the enforceability and regulatory nuances around the usage of side letters.

Enforceability of Side Letters in General.

  • From a contractual perspective, side letters could be said to be enforceable if they fulfil the basic tenets of a valid and binding contract under the Indian Contract Act, 1872, i.e. offer and acceptance, made by the free consent of the parties, for a lawful consideration with a lawful object, and not expressly declared to be void[1].
  • Enforceability could also flow from equity and relief under Chapter II of the Specific Relief Act, 1963. However, in a fund context that is structured as a trust, Section 11 of the Specific Relief Act, 1963 also comes into play that specifies that a contract made by a trustee in excess of his powers or in breach of trust cannot be specifically enforced. [Note: Enabling provisions in the indenture of trust need to be drafted carefully, as such.]
  • The principle of law as stated in Von Hatzfeldt – Wildenburg v. Alexander[2] is that:

“…… if the documents or letters relied on as constituting a contract contemplate the execution of a further contract between the parties, it is a question of construction whether the execution of the further contact is a condition or term of the bargain or whether it is a mere expression of the desire of the parties as to the manner in which the transaction already agreed to will in fact go through…… In the latter case there is a binding contract ……”

In the private equity/venture capital investment space, we often see side letters being sought for by seed stage or early stage institutional investors for grant of preferential or superior rights that provide better protection against future dilution of their existing voting or other rights in investee companies.

However, from an AIF documentation perspective, let us now look into the regulatory regime under the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Alternative Investment Fund) Regulations, 2012 (“AIF Regulations”).

Side Letters in AIFs – SEBI Perspective.

Chapter III and Chapter IV of the AIF Regulations talk about investment conditions and restrictions and general obligations and responsibilities of a sponsor or an investment manager, respectively. The relevant provisions put a lot of focus on adherence to placement memorandum terms, material changes only through consent of two-thirds of unitholders by value, the sponsor and manager acting in fiduciary capacity towards all investors. Through its Circular No. CIR/IMD/DF/7/2015 dated 1 October 2015 (“Circular”), the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), has further stressed upon the duty of all managers to carry out all the activities of the AIF in accordance with the placement memorandum circulated to all unit holders; and also, to act in the interest of unitholders and not take any action which is prejudicial to the interest of the unitholders. However, in the same Circular, AIF, manager, trustee and sponsor have also been mandated to exercise due diligence and independent professional judgment for the conduct of the business.

Therefore, the question that arises here is whether offering a preferential or special right to an investor through a side letter, affects the fiduciary responsibility of the sponsor or the manager towards the other investors. There seems to be 2 schools of thought here. One stressing upon the highest level of transparency and adherence to principles of avoidance of conflict of interest. The other thought, however, comes from the practical perspective of having to raise funds by the investment managers. Providing certain special rights which of course do not materially change the commercials terms of the applicable class of units, investment strategy, investment purpose and investment methodology of a fund, could sometimes be crucial for sealing the deal with a large or strategic investor. Side letters are also useful for providing contractual clarifications to even investors who want to join in late. The most frequent requests from the investors in this regard vary from limitations on time horizon and capping of indemnity and contributor giveback amounts to waiver of certain charges or fees, etc.

A constructive (or aggressive) interpretation of the AIF Regulations and the Circular could lead to the understanding that fund managers may exercise prudence and independent professional judgment for entering (if willing to take risk) into side letters, however, acting throughout in the interest of all unitholders and maintain highest standards of integrity and fairness and under an enabling provision captured in this respect in the placement memorandum.

One should remember that investment manager, holding a fiduciary role, merely has delegated powers from the trustee on the back of investment management agreement and typically can’t enter into contracts on the side-lines with investors without consent of the trustee or overriding/relaxing the main contract which the trustee has with investors. This could be construed as breach of trust and fiduciary duty depending on case circumstances and investment manager would need to indemnify the investors for any potential loss. Large number of side letters would also add to the administrative and legal burden on the fund/investment manager.

From an investor’s perspective, one should be careful on the enforceability, permissibility and workability of such letters and if they add any substantial value to the overall value proposition on manager selection vs. product selection.

From a Wealth Manager or Investment Advisor perspective, presence of side letters in their approved products might be construed as a red flag in due diligence process as limiting the transparency and fairness in treatment for their own investors.

Some much needed clarity from the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) on these lines could provide some color on the practice, one way or the other, and help in reduction of security and risk concerns amongst the investor base.

[1] Section 10 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872

[2] As quoted by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Kollipara Sriramulu v. T. Ashwathanarayana & Ors. – 1968 SCR (3) 387

Authors: Ms. Sohini Mandal, Associate Partner, NovoJuris Legal and Mr. Biharilal Deora, Director, Abakkus Asset Manager LLP

 

SEBI: Clarification on Clubbing of Investment limits for FPIs

The Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI) in its meeting dated December 12, 2018, had decided that Beneficial Ownership (BO) criteria in Prevention of Money laundering (Maintenance of Records) Rules, 2005 should be made applicable for the purpose of KYC only and not for clubbing of investment of Foreign Portfolio Investors (FPIs).

Pursuant to that, SEBI has issued a clarificatory note (the “Clarification”) on December 13, 2018 which deals with this aspect.

Earlier, vide Circular No. CIR/IMD/FPIC/CIR/P/2018/132 dated September 21, 2018, it was laid down that Non Resident Indians (NRIs)/Overseas Citizens of India(OCIs)/Resident Indians(RIs) are allowed to be constituents of FPI subject to the maximum contribution to the corpus of FPI by NRI/OCI/RI including those of NRI/OCI/RI controlled investment manager should be below a 25% threshold from a single NRI/OCI/RI and below 50% in aggregate to the corpus of FPI.

Key Highlights of the Clarification:

  • The Clarification supersedes SEBI Circular No. CIR/IMD/FPIC/CIR/P/2018/64 (‘KYC Requirements for FPI’) and partially modifies SEBI Circular No. SEBI/HO/IMD/FPIC/CIR/P/2018/66 (‘Clarification on clubbing of Investment limits of FPI’) both dated April 10, 2018.
  • Clubbing of investment limits for FPI will be on the basis of common ownership of more than 50% or based on common control, and not Beneficial Ownership.

Control includes the right to appoint majority of the directors or to control the management or policy decisions exercisable by a person or persons acting individually or in concert, directly or indirectly, including by virtue of shareholding or management rights or shareholders agreements or voting agreements or in any other manner.

  • Exemption from clubbing of Investment limits is provided for the FPIs which are:
    1. appropriately regulated by public retail funds; or
    2. public retail funds majority owned by appropriately regulated public retail funds majority owned by appropriately regulated public retail funds on look through basis; or
  • public retail funds and investment managers of such FPI are appropriately regulated.

Public retail funds mean (i) mutual funds or unit trusts which are open for subscription to retail investors and do not have specific investor type requirements e.g.  accredited investors etc, (ii) insurance companies where segregated portfolio with one to one correlation with a single investor is not maintained and (iii) pension funds.

  • It clarifies that, if two or more FPIs including foreign governments/ related entities are having direct or indirect common ownership of more than 50% or control all such FPIs will be treated as forming part of an investor group and the clubbing would apply.
  • Investment of foreign government agencies shall be clubbed with the investment by foreign govt./ its related entities for the purpose of calculation of 10% limit of FPI investments in a single company, if they form part of an investor group.
  • Investments from foreign government or its related entities from provinces/ states of countries following a federal structure shall not be clubbed if the foreign entities have different ownership and control.
  • In cases of breach of clubbing limits an FPI will either:
    1. Divest its holding within five trading days from the date of settlement of trades to bring its shareholding below 10% of the paid-up capital of the company; or
    2. treat the said investment shall be treated as FDI from the date of breach and comply accordingly.

Source: https://www.sebi.gov.in/legal/circulars/dec-2018/clarification-on-clubbing-of-investment-limits-of-foreign-portfolio-investors-fpis-_41281.html

https://www.sebi.gov.in/legal/circulars/sep-2018/eligibility-conditions-for-foreign-portfolio-investors-fpis-_40409.html

https://www.sebi.gov.in/legal/circulars/apr-2018/know-your-client-requirements-for-foreign-portfolio-investors-fpis-_38618.html

https://www.sebi.gov.in/legal/circulars/apr-2018/clarification-on-clubbing-of-investment-limits-of-foreign-government-foreign-government-related-entities_38616.html

Significant Beneficial Owners Rules – Disclosures

SEBI vide its circular number SEBI/HO/CFD/CMD1/CIR/P/2018/0000000149 dated December 7, 2018 issued this circular in  exercise  of  the  powers  conferred  under  Section  11  and Section  11A  of  the  Securities  and  Exchange  Board  of  India  Act,  1992  read  with Regulation 31 and Regulation 101(2) of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements) Regulations, 2015, in the in the interest of transparency.

This circular is in furtherance to the previous circulars and notifications (SEBI Circular No.  CIR/CFD/CMD/13/2015 and Companies (Significant Beneficial Owners) Rules, 2018 notified June 2018 by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs). SEBI clarified and laid down specific disclosures with respect to the shareholding pattern to determine the significant beneficial ownership.

Highlights:

  • Modification: The format specified in the Annexure to the circular shall be Table V  under clause  5 of  the format of  holding  of  specified  securities specified  in  the circular No. CIR/CFD/CMD/13/2015 dated November 30, 2015.
  • Disclosure: contents of the circular to be brought to notice of all listed entities and onus on stock exchange to disseminate this information though notice and publication in website
  • Annexure contains details of-
  • (i) Significant Beneficial Owner (Name, PAN, Nationality)
  • (ii) Registered Owner (Name, PAN, Nationality)
  • (iii) Particulars of shares held by significant beneficial owner which amount to significant beneficial ownership (the quantum of shares in the form of – exact number, percentage of the total number of shares)
  • (iv) Date of creation of Significant beneficial interest (/acquisition of the shares)

The manner of disclosure, as specified in the Annexure (tabular form) to the circular, will come to force from the quarter ending 31 March 2019.

LINK: https://www.sebi.gov.in/legal/circulars/dec-2018/disclosure-of-significant-beneficial-ownership-in-the-shareholding-pattern_41245.html

Basics of capital table and different capital instruments

The capital table is a reflection of the shareholding pattern of a company, shareholder names, percentage of shareholding.  This shareholding should ideally reflect the voting percentage in the company. But does it? What if the ESOP percentage has to be included while there is no voting on ESOP?

Founders should also consider the number of people on the capital table, though the maximum number in a private limited is 200, for various reasons including logistics of execution of documents, distribution of the annual accounts & annual report etc.

In this post, we have captured some of the key aspects to be considered while structuring the capital table.

At the time of Incorporation: It may be noted that the subscription of shares at the time of incorporation will be at face value and cannot be issued at a premium. The initial subscribers are usually the founders themselves.

The shareholding pattern amongst the founders is a function of many factors, such as roles and responsibilities and what each of them would bring to the table, whether investment is in cash or in terms of performance and service, for example, as a technical expert or a marketing expert. It certainly helps in decision making if one of the founders have majority shareholding. It is highly recommended that the founders enter into a founders’ agreement wherein the number of shares, percentage shareholding, future investment, vesting schedule, if any; roles and responsibilities of each founder, treatment of shares upon termination, etc. This would help in setting expectations as well as helpful in easing the founder terminations / resignations.

Employees Stock Option Pool (“ESOP”): A great team is instrumental and vital to the growth of an early stage company. However, the company may not have the finances to compensate with market salary to its employees at early stages (unless well funded). Thus, issuing stock options becomes very attractive – not only as compensation mechanism but also as building ownership and responsibility in the company. Stock options are notional unless they are exercised and shares are allotted. They represent a right to purchase a specified number of shares at a specific (exercise) price. When an employee exercises the Options and issued shares, then they became part owners in the company and can also sell the shares. Stock Options cannot be transferred or sold. Please see our previous post on Ten Frequently Asked Questions on Exercising Employee Stock Options in Private Limited Companies for more details in this regard.

Though Stock Options are not shares yet, it still forms a part of the capital table. External investments into the company, be it angel or institutional investment, are on a fully diluted basis. Ie. a shareholding pattern, as if all the outstanding share allotments regardless of vesting, assuming all stock options are converted, assuming all convertible securities are converted into common shares. Hence, Stock Options also form part of the capital table. In such a scenario, the percentage captured in the cap table is not necessarily the percentage of voting.

At the time of Investment: Whenever new investors subscribe to the shares of the company, the capital table undergoes a change. All the earlier shareholders’ percentage holding dilute, while the number of shares that they hold remains. If ESOP is set aside before the new investors coming in, then ESOP percentage dilutes, while the number of options set aside, remain the same.

Issuance to Advisors: Issuance of shares has to be at fair market value. Many a time, it is convenient for the founders to transfer their shares to the advisors. However, tax impact has to be evaluated for such transfers.

In India, we have different kinds of shares:
Equity share capital (common stock): (i) with voting (ii) with differential rights, such as dividend or voting. Founders typically have equity shares. ESOP is also typically granted as equity share class.

Preference share capital, which carry a preferential right over the equity shares to be paid dividend and a preference for repayment of capital in case of winding up. Investors typically have preference shares.

Preference shares can be:
Cumulative preference shares, which means that the holders are entitled to receive dividend even when a company does not make (adequate) profit, in which case the dividend is accumulated and paid when the company does have sufficient profits.
In Non-cumulative preference shares, the holders get the dividend only when a company makes sufficient profits, else the dividend lapses and cannot be carried forward.
Participating preference shares, means that the holders are eligible to receive surplus profits or dividends in addition to being entitled to their fixed dividend.
In Non-participating preference shares, the dividend paid is only to the extent of the agreed fixed dividend.
Convertible preference shares are those that are converted into equity within the maximum period of 20 years. Non-convertible preferences are those that do not get converted into equity shares.
Redeemable preference shares or optionally redeemable preference shares are those that have to be paid back within the maximum period of 20 years. We don’t have irredeemable preference shares.

The other form of investment is as debentures, which is primarily a debt. But the debt can convert into shares through the issuance of Compulsorily Convertible Debentures (CCD). You can read our post on CCD on the nuances related to its issuance. https://novojuris.com/2018/03/21/nuances-associated-with-issuance-of-compulsorily-convertible-debentures/

Investors also invest through CCD, especially when the valuation of the company is not clear. Here’s how it is done https://novojuris.com/2015/12/21/raising-of-funds-through-compulsorily-convertible-debentures/

You can share your thoughts or email your questions to relationships@novojuris.com

Competition Act: Amendment to the Combination Regulations Seeks to Simplify the Procedures Relating to Combinations

The Competition Commission of India (“Commission”), with the main objective of simplifying the procedures relating to combinations provided under the Competition Act, 2002 (“Competition Act”), has recently amended the Competition Commission of India (Procedure in regard to the transaction of business relating to combinations) Regulations, 2011 (“Combination Regulations”). The Combination Regulations, which was first introduced on May 11, 2011 has been amended multiple times and the latest amendment to the same is the Competition Commission of India (Procedure in regard to the transaction of business relating to combinations) Amendment Regulations, 2018 (“Amendment Regulations”) which was notified on 9 October, 2018.

Some of the Key Amendments are:

The Amendment Regulations Provides Clarity on the Time Period of 210 Days for a Combination to come into Effect:

As per the Act, every combination shall come into effect only after 210 days have passed from the date when the notice regarding the combination has been given to the Commission or the Commission has passed an order in relation to the same, whichever is earlier[1]. The Combination Regulations provides for getting additional information, clarifications, rectification of defects, etc. if required. However, there was no clarity in relation to whether the time taken to get these details would be covered within the 210 days period. Now, as per the Amendment Regulations, it is clear that the time period for getting additional information, clarifications, rectifications of defects, etc. is not included in the 210 days period. This essentially means that the time taken for a combination to come into effect will now be longer even for deemed approval due to the additional time that may be taken for getting additional information, clarifications, rectifications, etc.

Withdrawal and Re-Filing of Notice

As per the Amendment Regulations, a new regulation 16A has been inserted which states that, any time prior to issuance of notice by the Commission to the parties to a combination under Section 29 (1) of the Act[2], the Commission, may on the request of the parties to the combination allow withdrawal and refiling of the notice. Also, in case of withdrawal and refiling, the fee already paid in respect of such notice will be adjusted against the fee payable in respect of the new notice, provided the new notice is given within 3 months from the date of withdrawal.

Modifications to the Combination

As per the Amendment Regulations, before the Commission forms an opinion under Section 29 (1) of the Act, the parties to the combination may offer modifications to the combination and the Commission may approve the proposed combination basis such modifications. The position before the amendment was that, only if the Commission considered it necessary, it may require the parties to file additional information or accept modification.

Modifications in response to the Notice issued by the Commission

As per regulation 25 (1) of the Combination Regulations, the Commission can propose appropriate modifications to a combination if it is of the opinion that such combination is likely to have adverse effect on competition but such adverse effect can be eliminated by suitable modifications. Now, a new regulation 25 (1A) is inserted whereby, along with the response to the notice issued by the Commission under Section 29 (1) of the Act, the parties to the combination also can offer modifications to address the concerns of the Commission. The Commission may approve the combination basis such modifications. In such a case, the additional time required to evaluate the modification shall be excluded from the period provided under sections 6 (2A), 29 (2) and 31 (11) of the Act.

Source:https://www.cci.gov.in/sites/default/files/whats_newdocument/Comb.%20Amend%20Regl.2018.pdf

[1] Section 6 (2A) of the Act

[2] As per Section 29 (1), where the Commission is of the prima facie opinion that a combination is likely to cause, or has caused an appreciable adverse effect on competition, it shall issue a notice to show cause to the parties to combination calling upon them to respond within 30 days of the receipt of the notice, as to why investigation in respect of such combination should not be conducted.

Anti-dilution protection in shareholders agreement – Implementation under Indian laws

Anti-dilution protection is one term which is present in almost every investment transaction. From the perspective of the founders, especially in case of a start-up or an early stage company, it is very important to understand the implications of having such a provision in the shareholders agreement (SHA). Founders generally tend to agree to so-called “standard” terms in the SHA, when in dire need of the investment. An anti-dilution provision has to be reviewed closely in order to ensure it is not too harsh on the founders and also since the transaction documents set precedents for the subsequent round of investments. This article discusses some of the main methods of anti-dilution protection usually seen in transactions in India and some of the difficulties associated with actual implementation of such anti-dilution provisions.

What is Anti-Dilution Protection?

Before moving to anti-dilution, we need to understand the concept of dilution. Dilution is the decrease in the shareholding percentage of a shareholder in a company due to increase in the number of outstanding shares. For example, when a company receives subsequent round of investment, the shareholding percentage of the existing investors gets diluted. It is good to have the value of a company increase in subsequent rounds of funding. However, there might be situations when a company may not perform or grow as expected due to which the value of the share decreases. In such a scenario, anti-dilution protection is triggered by the existing investors to maintain their shareholding percentage in the company to a certain extent (which is explained below).

Essentially, anti-dilution protection is such protection given to the existing investors of the company when new shares are issued in a subsequent round at a price per share which is lower than the price paid by the existing investors. It is pertinent to note that anti-dilution protection is applicable only when shares are issued at a price per share which is lower than the price paid by the existing investors and not for every subsequent issue of shares. The reason being that, if shares are being offered to subsequent investors at a price per share which is higher than the price per share paid by the existing investors, even though their percentage shareholding in the company reduces, the value of the shares held by them increases.

Anti-Dilution Protection and its Variants

In India, the two commonly used forms of anti-dilution protection are: (a) Full Ratchet and (b) Broad Based Weighted Average.

Full Ratchet: Under this method, if shares are issued at a subsequent round of investment at a price per share that is lower than the price per share paid by the existing investors of the company, then the price of the shares/ conversion price of the existing investors will be revised to the price at which the new shares being issued. In such scenario, either additional shares will be issued to the existing investors for the surplus consideration after such price adjustment without the existing investors making any further payments or conversion price would be revised to the price of such shares being issued. Thus, the full-ratchet method does not consider the number of shares held by the existing investors or the number of shares being issued in the subsequent investment round, but only considers the price at which the new shares are being issued and the new price will be applied to all the shares held by the existing shareholders. Thus, the full ratchet method of anti-dilution protection is very harsh on the Company and the Founders as compared to the broad based weighted average method. Also, the shareholding percentage of the founders may get diluted to a very large extent if a full ratchet provision is implemented.

Broad Based Weighted Average: As compared to full ratchet mechanism, broad based weighted average method uses a formula which considers the number of shares issued in a subsequent round of investment and the number of shares held by the existing investors. Therefore, the broad based weighted average method is fair to the founders as well as to the investors and is adopted more frequently in investment transactions. The weighted average formula used in the transaction documents describe how the weighted average price is determined by taking into the consideration the existing price or the conversion price of the shares, number of outstanding shares prior to the new issuance, the number of shares to be issued and the purchase consideration to be received by the company with respect to such issuance.

Implications of Anti-Dilution Provision 

Pricing Guidelines under Indian Laws:

Any further issuance of shares by a Company registered in India shall adhere to various provisions of the Companies Act, 2013 (the “Act”), Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 including rules and regulations notified thereunder, regulations prescribed by Securities Exchange Board of India (“SEBI”) (if applicable) and Income Tax Act, 1961 (the “IT Act”).

In India, implementation of anti-dilution protection is complex considering the existing laws. For instance, shares issued to foreign investors need to be in compliance with the pricing guidelines as provided in Foreign Exchange Management (Transfer or Issue of Security by a Person Resident Outside India) Regulations, 2017 (“FDI Regulations”). As per the pricing guidelines, capital instruments which are issued or transferred to a foreign resident has to be priced as per any internationally accepted pricing methodology for valuation on an arm’s length basis duly certified by a chartered accountant or a SEBI registered merchant banker or a practicing cost accountant in case of an unlisted company.

Convertible Instruments: Additionally, in case of convertible instruments, the price/ conversion formula of the instrument should be determined upfront at the time of issue of the instrument and the price at the time of conversion should not in any case be lower than the fair value worked out, at the time of issuance of such instruments, in accordance with the FDI Regulations. Therefore, even adjusting the conversion ratio of a convertible instrument can pose complexities.

Considering aforementioned guidelines, enforcement of anti-dilution provisions and issue of shares pursuant to the same, especially to non-residents will be very difficult. Also, implementation of anti-dilution which results in issuance of new shares for no consideration, would not be allowed under the Act (which is applicable for both resident and non-resident investors).

Tax: Further, there is a complication which has to be examined under tax laws. As per section 56 (2) (x) (c) of the IT Act, when any person receives shares for a consideration which is less than the aggregate fair market value (FMV) by an amount exceeding fifty thousand rupees, the aggregate FMV of such property as exceeds such consideration is taxable as ‘income from other sources’ in the hands of the person receiving such shares.

Our thoughts:

Considering the nuances associated with the issuance of shares at a price below FMV or for no consideration, the actual implementation of anti-dilution provisions poses a lot of difficulties. Unless certain exceptions are brought in the existing laws, actual implementation could be a challenge in India, especially with respect to foreign investors.

Authors:  Mr. Paul Albert and Mr. Ashwin Bhat