Dispute Resolution

Serbia: Unlimited Liability without a Right to Judicial Protection – The Status of Consortium Members upon Termination of a Privatisation Agreement

According to information provided by the Serbian Privatisation Agency, around 30% of the 2,500 privatisation agreements entered into from 2001 to 2010 have been terminated, resulting in many disputes. Nevertheless, jurisprudence still remains unsettled on fundamental questions – who can be a party, and may a consortium member appear as plaintiff?

Consortium as purchaser within the meaning of the Privatisation Act

The Serbian Privatisation Act provides that a domestic or foreign individual or legal entity may act as purchaser of a company being privatised. Further, it explicitly stipulates that such persons may join forces or form a strategic partnership (“Consortium“), to purchase a privatised company, and that they may authorise one person to represent them.

A Consortium is formed by means of a consortium agreement between its members. Given that it represents a specific form of contractual partnership, consortiums typically result in unlimited joint and several liability of members for the obligations arising from the privatisation agreement. In practice the Serbian Privatisation Agency has generally been reluctant to agree on any limitation of this joint and several liability.

Consortium as party to civil proceedings

The Serbian Civil Procedure Act provides that any individual or legal entity may be a party to civil proceedings. In addition, the courts are also authorised to extend party status to those forms of association that do not otherwise have the capacity to sue or be sued. Thus it is beyond dispute that courts are able to recognise a Consortium’s party status in a proceeding.

Consortium member as party to civil proceedings?

The right granted to Consortiums to be a party to proceedings has given rise to conflicting opinions on the right of Consortium members to act independently as parties to proceedings.

On one hand, it is beyond dispute that the Privatisation Agency may sue both the entire Consortium, and individual Consortium members (all or some or only one of them), because they all have unlimited joint and several liability for the obligations under the privatisation agreement.

However, case law is divided on whether Consortium members may independently sue the Privatisation Agency for damages or restitution of a payment, or whether this right is vested solely with the Consortium itself.

Both those who believe that Consortium members have standing to sue and those who believe that they do not (and that only the Consortium itself has standing to sue) defend their position by analysing the relationship between the consortium agreement and the privatisation agreement. Thus some believe that the termination of the privatisation agreement automatically entails the termination of the consortium agreement, and therefore once the consortium agreement no longer exists, the Consortium members are not in a contractual relationship and are not necessary co-litigants. The opposite opinion is based on the assumption that the termination of the privatisation agreement does not entail automatic termination of the consortium agreement, and thus Consortium members remain procedurally tied to one another and may not act independently.

It appears, however, that the proponents of both positions are approaching the question from a false direction, and analysing the issue from an incorrect angle.

What is a Consortium?

A Consortium is a form of economic association entered into between entities with the objective of participating in a common business activity (such as participation in a tender for the sale of a company being privatised). Consortiums are not regulated in the Serbian or most other legal systems. Therefore a theoretical question arises of whether a Consortium is a commercial law entity or sui generis civil law partnership. In order to answer this question one must analyse the provisions of the actual Consortium agreement to see how the members regulated these matters.

Nevertheless, the position that only a Consortium may act as plaintiff in a civil proceeding rests on the unconditional assumption that each and every Consortium agreement conveys the business capacity of the members to the Consortium. This would mean that the members have limited their business capacity by entering into the Consortium agreement, and consequently limited their right to protect their own interests (which may be entirely different from those of the other Consortium members).

However, no such thing is ever stipulated in a Consortium agreement. Consortium members always retain their legal and business personalities, and the association formed between them does not result in the creation of a new legal entity. They have not agreed to limit independent action by each of the members in protecting their interests, nor independent conduct of disputes (both mutual and those against the Privatisation Agency). This is evident from the fact that all the members have accepted their unlimited joint and several liability for the Consortium’s obligations under the privatisation agreement.

It is precisely this unlimited joint and several liability of all the Consortium members that indicates that a Consortium is an association between its members to form a (sui generis) partnership with the objective of participating in a common business activity. It is this unlimited joint and several liability of the members that gives rise to their right to act independently as parties to a proceeding in order to protect their own interests and rights under the privatisation agreement, hence also their interest in bringing proceedings for the compensation of damages.

Any position to the contrary, requiring Consortium members to act in concert, would deprive them of their guaranteed right to legal protection and prevent them from protecting their own interests. In practice this would lead to a situation where the Privatisation Agency could sue each one individually to collect contractual penalties, while they themselves would not be in a position to respond by filing a complaint or a counterclaim. Persisting in this position would not only be unlawful, but becomes particularly purposeless in a situation where one of the Consortium members ceases to exist (eg, in case of insolvency of a legal entity or death of an individual).

Further, once the objective for which a Consortium was formed has been fulfilled the purpose of the formation of a Consortium with respect to the Privatisation Agency has ceased to exist. Hence the Consortium agreement no longer has any effect vis-à-vis the Privatisation Agency. This does not imply that the Agency will be prevented from exercising its rights under the privatisation agreement. Quite the contrary, the Agency may protect its rights vis-à-vis: (i) all Consortium members (as contractual parties), and (ii) individual members, all of them having unlimited joint and several liability vis-à-vis the Agency. This ensues from the rules regulating the liability of partners in a partnership within the meaning of the Companies Act.

Thus, when purchasing a company being privatised, consider establishing a SPV, to serve as purchaser in the privatisation agreement (if allowed by the tender rules). This would ensure limitation of liability and eliminate the issue discussed above regarding the standing to sue. If this is not possible, it is advisable to: (i) limit individual liability of the members of the Consortium and exclude joint liability; (ii) specify ownership percentage of each member of the Consortium, and (iii) expressly provide that each member of the Consortium is entitled to act independently (including the right to sue). This would effectively eliminate the Consortium at the moment its members obtain ownership over the company being privatised.

Both those who believe that Consortium members have standing to sue and those who believe that they do not (and that only the Consortium itself has standing to sue) defend their positions by analysing the relationship between the consortium agreement and the privatisation agreement. It appears, however, that the proponents of both positions are analysing the issue from an incorrect angle.

Srbija: Neograničena odgovornost bez prava na sudsku zaštitu -status člana Konzorcijuma nakon raskida ugovora o privatizaciji

Prema podacima Agencije za privatizaciju, od preko 2,500 ugovora o privatizaciji zaključenih u periodu od 2001. do 2010. godine, oko 30% je raskinuto. To je rezultiralo u velikom broju sporova. Ipak, u sudskoj praksi ostaje nerešeno najvažnije pitanje: ko može biti stranka u takvim sporovima? I, konkretno, da li član Konzorcijuma može biti tužilac?

Konzorcijum – kupac u smislu Zakona o privatizaciji

Zakonom o privatizaciji je predviđeno da kupac preduzeća u privatizaciji može biti domaće ili strano fizičko ili pravno lice. Takođe, izričito je predviđeno da se ova lica mogu udružiti radi kupovine privatizovanog preduzeća ili strateškog partnerstva (“Konzorcijum“), kao i ovlastiti jedno lice za zastupanje Konzorcijuma.

Konzorcijum nastaje zaključenjem ugovora o konzorcijumu između njegovih članova. Pošto predstavlja posebnu vrstu ugovornog partnerstva, konzorcijum obično povlači neograničenu solidarnu odgovornost članova za obaveze iz ugovora o privatizaciji. Agencija za privatizaciju je u praksi obično bila nespremna da prihvati bilo kakvo ograničenje te solidarne odgovornosti.

Konzorcijum – stranka u parničnom postupku

Zakonom o parničnom postupku je predviđeno da stranka u postupku može biti svako fizičko i pravno lice. Takođe, sud je ovlašćen da prizna svojstvo stranke i onim oblicima udruživanja koji nemaju stranačku sposobnost. Tako je u dosadašnoj praksi nesporno da Konzorcijumu može da se prizna svojstvo stranke u postupku.
Član Konzorcijuma – stranka u parničnom postupku?

Iz prava koje je dato Konzorcijumu (da bude stranka u postupku) razvili su se suprotstavljeni stavovi u pogledu prava članova Konzorcijuma da samostalno učestvuju u parnici.

Naime, nesporno je da Agencija za privatizaciju može da tuži čitav Konzorcijum, ali i samo članove Konzorcijuma pojedinačno (sve, samo neke ili samo jednog) – jer su svi oni neograničeno solidarno odgovorni za obaveze iz ugovora o privatizaciji.

Međutim, u sudskoj praksi je sporno da li članovi Konzorcijuma mogu samostalno (samo neki ili samo jedan) da tuže Agenciju za privatizaciju radi naknade štete i povraćaja datog, ili ovo pravo pripada samo i isključivo Konzorcijumu.

I oni koji smatraju da članovi Konzorcijuma imaju aktivnu legitimaciju i oni koji smatraju da je nemaju (već da je samo Konzorcijum aktivno legitimisan), svoj stav brane analizirajući odnos između ugovora o konzorcijumu i ugovora o privatizaciji. Tako prvi smatraju da se raskidom ugovora o privatizaciji automatski raskida i ugovor o konzorcijumu. Obzirom da ugovor o konzorcijumu više ne postoji, članovi Konzorcijuma nisu u ugovornom odnosu i nisu nužni suparničari. Suprotan stav polazi od toga da se raskidom ugovora o privatizaciji ne raskida automatski i ugovor o konzorcijumu. Zbog toga su članovi Konzorcijuma u procesnoj zajednici i ne mogu samostalno istupati.

Čini se, međutim, da oba stava imaju pogrešan pristup, odnosno da analiziraju ovo pitanje iz pogrešnog ugla.

Šta je zapravo Konzorcijum?

Konzorcijum je oblik udruživanja u privredi radi zajedničke realizacije pojedinačnog privrednog posla (npr. učestvovanje u tenderu radi prodaje preduzeća u privatizaciji). Konzorcijum u srpskom, kao i u većini zakonodavstava, nije regulisan. Zato se kao teoretsko pitanje postavlja i pitanje da li je konzorcijum društvo trgovačkog prava ili je to sui generis ortakluk građanskog prava. Radi odgovora na ova pitanja moraju se pogledati odredbe samog ugovora o konzorcijumu kojim su članovi regulisali ova pitanja.

Međutim, stav da tužilac u parnici može da bude samo Konzorcijum u suštini bezuslovno pretpostavlja da je ugovorom o konzorcijumu poslovna sposobnost članova zapravo preneta na Konzorcijum. To bi značilo da su članovi ugovorom o konzorcijumu ograničili svoju poslovnu sposobnost i na taj način ograničili svoja prava da štite svoje interese (koji mogu biti potpuno različiti od interesa drugih članova Konzorcijuma).

Ovako nešto se praktično nikada ne ugovara. Članovi Konzorcijuma uvek zadržavaju svoj pravni i poslovni subjektivitet i povezivanjem ne dolazi do stvaranja novog pravnog subjekta. Oni se nisu međusobno saglasili da ograniče samostalno istupanje svakog od članova u zaštiti svojih interesa, kao ni samostalno vođenje sporova (kako međusobnih, tako i protiv Agencije za privatizaciju). Ovo je sasvim razumljivo, jer su svi članovi prihvatili da neograničeno solidarno odgovaraju za obaveze proistekle iz ugovora o privatizaciji.

Upravo neograničena solidarna odgovornost svih članova Konzorcijuma upućuje da je konzorcijum udruženje članova u (sui generis) ortakluk radi obavljanja jednog posla. Upravo iz ove neograničene solidarne odgovornosti svih članova proizlazi njihovo pravo da samostalno istupaju kao stranka u postupku radi zaštite sopstvenih interesa i prava koja proističu iz ugovora o privatizaciji. Otud i njihov pravni interes za podnošenje tužbenog zahteva za naknadu pretrpljene štete.

Svaki suprotan stav i uslovljavanje članova Konzorcijuma zajedničkim delovanjem lišilo bi ih zajemčenog prava na pravnu zaštitu i onemogućilo da zaštite sopstvene interese. U praksi to bi dovelo do situacije da ih Agencija za privatizaciju svakog pojedinačno utužuje za naplatu ugovorne kazne, a da oni nemaju pravo da se usprotive takvom zahtevu podnošenjem tužbe ili protivtužbe. Insistiranje na ovakvom stavu ne samo da bi bilo nezakonito, već i postaje bespredmetno u situaciji kada jedan od članova konzorcijuma prestane da postoji (npr. u slučaju stečaja pravnog lica, ili smrti fizičkog lica).

Dodatno, nakon ispunjenja cilja zbog koga je Konzorcijum osnovan, svrha osnivanja Konzorcijuma u odnosu na Agenciju za privatizaciju je prestala. Zato ugovor o konzorcijumu u odnosu na Agenciju za privatizaciju više ne proizvodi dejstvo.

To ne znači da će Agencija za privatizaciju biti onemogućena da ostvaruje svoja prava iz ugovora o privatizaciji. Naprotiv, Agencija za privatizaciju svoja prava može da štiti u odnosu na: (i) sve članove Konzorcijuma (kao ugovorne strane), kao i (ii) članove pojedinačno, jer svi članovi joj odgovaraju neograničeno solidarno. Ovo proizilazi i iz pravila koja regulišu odgovornost ortaka u ortačkom društvu u smislu Zakona o privrednim društvima.

Stoga prilikom kupovine preduzeća u privatizaciji treba razmotriti mogućnost osnivanja društva za posebne namene (SPV), kao kupca u ugovoru o privatizaciji (ako tenderska pravila to dopuštaju). To bi obezbedilo ograničenje odgovornosti i rešilo navedeni problem aktivne legitimacije. Ako, pak, to nije moguće, preporučljivo je: (i) ograničiti individualny odgovornost članova Konzorcijuma i isključiti solidarnu odgovornost; (ii) utvrditi direkno procenutlano učešće svakog od članova Konzorcijuma i (iii) izričito predvideti da svaki član Konzorcijuma ima pravo da istupa samostalno (uključujući i pravo na podnošenje tužbe). To bi praktično dovelo do gašenja Konzorcijuma u trenutku kada njegovi članovi postanu vlasnici preduzeća u privatizaciji.

I oni koji smatraju da članovi Konzorcijuma imaju aktivnu legitimaciju i oni koji smatraju da je nemaju (već da je samo Konzorcijum aktivno legitimisan), svoj stav brane analizirajući odnos između ugovora o konzorcijumu i ugovora o privatizaciji. Čini se, međutim, da je ovo pogrešan pristup i da i jedni i drugi analiziraju problem iz pogrešnog ugla.