Private Equity Firm AIP Buys Debt on Gupta’s Aluminum Plants

American Industrial Partners has bought most of the senior debt of two of Sanjeev Gupta’s European aluminum assets, putting it in position to take them over, people familiar with the matter said.

The New York-based private equity firm in recent days bought debt linked to Gupta’s Dunkirk smelter in France as well as refinancing the senior debt of the Duffel rolling mill in Belgium, said the people, who asked not to be identified as the deals weren’t public.

Gupta has been searching for new financing as the industrialist scrambles to save his metals empire after the collapse of its biggest lender, Greensill Capital, last month. AIP’s move to buy out other creditors at par could signal its intention to purchase the aluminum assets -- either directly from Gupta or after an insolvency process.

Private Equity Firm AIP Buys Debt on Gupta’s Aluminum Plants

Gupta’s GFG Alliance, a loose group of metals and commodity trading companies, warned in February it would face insolvency without Greensill’s funding, according to court documents. Its aluminum assets are grouped under the name Alvance.

“GFG Alliance can confirm Alvance Aluminium Duffel is enjoying the benefits of recent strong aluminum markets and its excellent relationships with customers. We have now completed the refinancing of its external debt facilities, with a large international lender, which will position the business for continued growth,” a spokesperson for GFG said, without elaborating.

The GFG spokesperson declined to comment on Dunkirk and potential talks to sell the plants. Representatives for AIP didn’t immediately reply to calls and emails seeking comment.

AIP’s move caps a frenetic period of trading in debt linked to the Dunkirk plant, Europe’s largest aluminum smelter, which Gupta bought from Rio Tinto Group in 2018.

Several lenders including BNP Paribas SA, Morgan Stanley, Natixis SA, Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd. and ICBC Standard Bank Plc have sold or sought to sell their portions of the loan in recent weeks, Bloomberg has reported. The loans were then bought at a discount by distressed debt investors including Davidson Kempner Capital Management and Triton Partners, before AIP came in to buy them out at par, the people said.

Still, Trafigura Group has not only retained its portion of the Dunkirk loan but also added to it in recent days, several of the people said, potentially indicating that the trading house could play a role in a future deal for the smelter. Rival trader Glencore Plc has also expressed interest in the smelter, according to separate people familiar with the matter.

Trafigura and Glencore declined to comment.

At the same time, a senior loan of around 50 million euros ($60 million) to the Duffel plant from Tor Investment Management has also been repaid, two of the people said.

AIP is focused on buying industrial businesses and has raised approximately $7 billion of capital across seven investment funds, according to its website. In December, it bought a former Aleris Corp. aluminum rolling mill in Lewisport, Kentucky from Hindalco Industries Ltd.

Gupta’s aluminum assets could have an enterprise value of just over $1 billion, including $637 million in debt, according to a GFG presentation seen by Bloomberg News. The assets’ earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization totaled $103 million last year, the presentation showed.

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