Troubled hospitals provider NMC Health has asked its banks for an “informal standstill” on its debt payments as it faces a cash crunch amid an accounting scandal.
NMC, a member of the FTSE 100 index, said on Monday it was asking lenders to hold off from exercising their rights, which could include demands for debt payments or collateral, on the company’s £2bn debt pile.
The London-listed company, which is based in Abu Dhabi and runs private hospitals in the Middle East, is in crisis after it revealed accounting inconsistencies, including revelations over the ownership of shares that could trigger the debt payments.
The group, which treated over 7.5 million patients in 2018, reported revenues of $2.1bn (£1.6bn) in the same year. It faces a cash crunch if its lenders call in the debts.
The latest development was prompted by the admission that the combined stakes of the main shareholders: Bavaguthu Raghuram Shetty, the founder and co-chair of the company, Saeed Mohamed Butti al-Qebaisi and Khaleefa Butti al-Muhairi , had fallen below 30%. The terms of NMC’s debts include “change of control” provisions – including a requirement that the principal shareholders own more than 30% of the business between them – that allow the banks to call in their loans with only five days’ notice.
NMC has hired investment bank Moelis & Company, accountancy firm PwC and lawyers Allen & Overy to advise on discussions with its lenders as well as managing the company’s finances.
The Financial Conduct Authority last week opened an investigation into the company after trading in its shares on the London Stock Exchange was suspended and the company fired its chief executive, Prasanth Manghat, and granted its chief financial officer, Prashanth Shenoy, “extended sick leave”.
The clearout at the top of the company came after a board-commissioned investigation by the former FBI director Louis Freeh found that the company had entered into $335m of secret financing arrangements that were used by entities controlled by Shetty and Khaleefa Butti, another of the main shareholders.
The turmoil at the group was triggered by a December report by short-selling hedge fund Muddy Waters, which said it had concerns over asset values, cash balance, reported profits, and reported debt levels, as well as possible fraud and theft. NMC denied those allegations.