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A judge on Tuesday heard heated arguments about whether to restrict investors from trading the debt of LightSquared Inc., with the company's lenders arguing that they don't want to be handcuffed into holding securities that could dwindle in value.
Judge Shelley C. Chapman of U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan told lawyers she will rule later on whether to restrict the trading of the company's debt, a move that LightSquared said could help it preserve valuable tax benefits for its estate.
White & Case LLP's Glenn M. Kurtz, a lawyer for a group of lenders owed $1.7 billion, questioned LightSquared Chief Financial Officer Marc R. Montagner about the role of Harbinger Capital Partners and the man who runs its hedge funds, Phil Falcone. Kurtz tried to prove the point that it was nearly impossible for enough debt be converted into equity for control of the company to be changed, which would possibly prevent LightSquared from benefiting from the tax breaks. LightSquared's requested restrictions would force debtholders to sell down their stakes if they build too high a position.
The hearing became testy at times, with Chapman at one point suggesting a question Kurtz could ask and then telling him, "Mr. Kurtz, I've actually been doing this a couple of years." She later took issue with Kurtz not asking for permission to approach the bench when sending one of his associates to deliver her a piece of evidence.
Lawyers for LightSquared and majority owner Harbinger argued that a change in ownership of the company could wipe out as much as $1.5 billion in tax breaks the company could currently be entitled to. Such breaks allow a company to offset tax liabilities against future income, but a change of control could change that.
Ultimately, many of Montagner's answers ended up being, "I cannot predict the future."
"I think that the testimony has been largely repetitive for some time now," Chapman said at one point.
LightSquared and Harbinger lawyers argued that the burden was on the lenders to prove why they should be allowed to freely trade the debt, since the tax benefits could have so much value for the estate.
Chapman asked Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP's Matthew S. Barr, a LightSquared lawyer, if she should turn down the motion if she thought the prices of the debt would go down based on her decision. Barr responded that because the tax benefits would be for the bankruptcy estate, it shouldn't matter and she should approve the motion.
Blackstone Group LP (BX) Senior Managing Director Steven Zelin, a witness called by the lenders, testified that a restriction of the trading would lower the value of LightSquared debt, a detriment to those who hold it now.
"I believe it's not necessary," Zelin said of the attempt to restrict trading. A lawyer for LightSquared grilled Zelin on whether he could pinpoint the impact of restricted trading on the prices of the debt. Zelin said he couldn't, because trading can be impacted by many factors.
LightSquared filed for bankruptcy earlier this month after failing to come to an agreement with lenders to restructure the debt. The company owes $320 million to a group whose loans are secured by the company's leases on wireless spectrum, and equity interest in that spectrum. But its bigger obligation is the $1.7 billion in loans secured by the company's assets.
At the company's first hearing on May 15, White & Case's Thomas E. Lauria, another lawyer for the lenders, said issues with the Federal Communications Commission that have delayed the company's rollout of a nationwide satellite system could take "years to resolve," and that he was concerned the company could burn through its nearly $200 million in cash during that time.
Falcone and Harbinger own most of LightSquared's stock, investing billions of dollars into a venture that sought to compete with communications heavyweights like AT&T Inc. (T) and Verizon Wireless. But efforts to build a national network stalled as federal regulators began to raise issues involving whether LightSquared's network could interfere with global positioning services.
(Dow Jones Daily Bankruptcy Review covers news about distressed companies and those under bankruptcy protection. Go to http://dbr.dowjones.com)
-Write to Joseph Checkler at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeCheckler
(Jacqueline Palank in Washington contributed to this article.)