Board nomination right of 10% Shareholders

 Article 79.2(a) of the Enterprise Law provides that a shareholder (10% Major Shareholder) or a group of shareholders (10% Group Major Shareholder) holding more than 10% of the total ordinary shares for a consecutive period of six months or more, or holding a smaller percentage  as stipulated in the charter of a joint stock company (JSC) will have the right to nominate candidates to the Board of Director of the JSC (the Board).

Both Decree 102/2010 and the Enterprise Law do not set out a clear mechanism for implementing the nomination right of a 10% Major Shareholder or a 10% Group Major Shareholder in the context of a JSC. In particular, 

  • Article 79.4 of the Enterprise Law provides that except where otherwise stipulated in the charter of the company, the shareholders forming a 10% Group Major Shareholder must notify other attending shareholders of the formation of the 10% Group Major Shareholder no later than the beginning of a meeting of the General Meeting of Shareholders (GMS). Article 29.2 of Decree 102/2010 allows the formation of a 10% Group Major Shareholder to occur before and during a meeting of the GMS. From the 10% Group Major Shareholders’ perspective, the provisions of the Enterprise Law and Decree 102/2010 could allow a group of shareholders to have maximum flexibility in exercising the rights of a 10% Group Major Shareholder. On the other hand, other shareholders or the JSC would likely want to know as early as possible if there is any 10% Group Major Shareholder who intends to exercise its nomination rights in the JSC to manage the operation of the company. A JSC (especially a public JSC) which wants to avoid a surprised proxy contest or hostile take-over may consider setting up a mechanism to require a 10% Group Major Shareholder to notify the JSC well in advance (even at the beginning of the six-month period) before exercising the rights of such 10% Group Major Shareholder.

  •  It is not clear if during a six-month holding period, internal transfers among the shareholders constituting a 10% Group Major Shareholder will affect such 10% Group Major Shareholder’s nomination rights. For example, at the beginning of the six-month shareholding period, a 10% Group Major Shareholder comprises of Shareholder A and Shareholder B holding 10% and 5% shares respectively. During the six-month shareholding period, A sells 2% shares to B. As such, at the time, the 10% Group Major Shareholder exercises its nomination rights, the 10% Group Major Shareholder still comprises of A and B but the shareholding ratios are different (being 8%/7% instead of 10%/5%). It is not clear if the 10% Group Major Shareholder at such time is still regarded as the same 10% Group Major Shareholder and is entitled to exercise the nomination right under Article 79.2 of the Enterprise Law.
  •  Similarly, it is not clear if any increase in the number of shares held by a 10% Group Major Shareholder during a six-month holding period would be entitled to the same nomination rights attached to the original number of shares. For example, at the beginning of the six-month shareholding period, a 10% Group Major Shareholder holds 11% shares in the JSC which empowers them to nominate one candidate for Board member if they were to continue to hold the same number of shares. Two month later during the six-month shareholding period the 10% Group Major Shareholder increases its shareholding to 31% which empowers them to nominate three candidates for Board members at the end of the six-month shareholding period. However, the question is whether the JSC can refuse the nomination rights attached to the 20% increased during the six-month shareholding period on the ground that the actual holding period for such increased shareholding is less than six month.
  •  The provisions of the Enterprise Law and Decree 102/2010 do not limit how many times during the term of the Board the nomination rights of a 10% Major Shareholder or a 10% Group Major Shareholder could be exercised. Therefore, to maintain control of the Board and to avoid the effect of cumulative voting requirement, a controlling shareholder may “divide” the election of Board members into smaller lots. In particular, under cumulative voting principle, whenever a JSC elects new Board members, each shareholder will have a number of votes equal to the number of new Board members to be elected times the number of voting shares held by such shareholder and such shareholder may cash all or some of his/her votes for any candidate. As such, the smaller the number of new Board members to be elected, the lesser the chance that a minority could win a Board seat.

  • The provisions of the Enterprise Law and Decree 102/2010 do not contemplate the nomination procedures where the nomination and selection of Board Members is conducted through obtaining written opinions from shareholders rather than through physical meetings of the GMS.

  •  The provisions of the Enterprise Law and Decree 102/2010 do not have any restriction for one shareholder to participate in the formation of more than one group of 10% Major Shareholders.

  •  The Enterprise Law and Decree 102/2010 do not contemplate whether and how a 10% Major Shareholder or a 10% Group Major Shareholder needs to present evidence that it satisfies the holding period requirement under Article 79.2 of the Enterprise Law. Under the Enterprise Law, the shareholders register (Sổ đăng ký cổ đông) provides conclusive evidence of ownership over shares. For a public JSC, whose shareholders register is maintained by the Vietnam Securities Depository Centre (VSD), the public JSC may not be able to confirm whether a 10% Major Shareholder or a 10% Group Major Shareholder is holding a number of shares consecutively during a period of time without the VSD’s cooperation and confirmation.

To avoid confusion and potential disputes, the Charter of a JSC should address the various uncertainties regarding the right of a 10% Major Shareholder or a 10% Group Major Shareholder to nominate Board Members candidate under the Enterprise Law and Decree 102/2010.


Vietnam Business Law Blog

On 28 December 2018, the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) issued Circular 42 amending current foreign currency borrowing regulations (in Circular 24 of the SBV dated 8 December 2015, as amended from time to time (Circular 24/2015)) (Circular 42/2018). Circular 42/2018 will take effect from 1 January 2019.

Changes to permitted lending purpose

Vietnamese banks only lend in foreign currency for a few limited purposes. Circular 42/2018 has following changes to these purposes:

On 20 June 2018, the Ministry of Justice issued Circular 8 on the registration and provision of information on security interest and contracts (Circular 8/2018). Circular 8/2018 will replace Circular 5/2011 on the same subject from 4 August 2018.

Name of the object of the registration

The object of registration under Circular 5/2011 is secured transactions (giao dịch bảo đảm), which is in line with the Civil Code 2005. However, the term “secured transaction” is almost removed from the Civil Code 2015 and the registration is now the registration of security interest (biện pháp bảo đảm). Circular 8/2018 adopts such approach and determined the object of registration is security interest to be consistent with the new Civil Code 2015.

The Ministry of Finance has released a latest draft amendment to the Securities Law 2006 (https://tinyurl.com/ydc44zyd), which is scheduled to be passed in the second half of 2019. It looks like that any major law in Vietnam will need to undergo major changes in every 10 years whether or not the changes are necessary. The draft amendments include the following major changes regarding capital raising process:

In December 2018, the Government issues Decree 163/2018 to replace Decree 90/2011 on private issuance of corporate by Vietnamese companies from February 2019. Decree 163/2018 introduces certain new important points as follows:

·        To be able issue bonds, a company is no longer required to be profitable in year before the proposed issuance. Instead, the company only needs to operate for at least one year and its financial statement is audited by a qualified auditor. Issuer who has undergone certain restructuring (e.g., merger, conversion or division) may rely on the historical operation of other related companies to meet the one year operating test;

·        Secondary trading of privately-issued bonds is limited within up to 100 investors excluding “professional investors” within one year from the issuance date. The new limitation seems to aim at the practice of issuing bonds privately at the first place and reselling the same to public investors in secondary market;

Vietnamese banking regulations do not provide for a clear definition of a financial lease (cho thuê tài chính). The lack of a clear definition may result in unnecessary legal risks for parties to a cross-border lease transaction (e.g., an aircraft lease). For example, if a cross-border lease is regarded as a financial lease, then the lease may need to be registered with the State Bank of Vietnam as a foreign loan.

Under the Law on Credit Institution 2010, the act of finance leasing is defined to be (1) the extension of medium and long-term credit; (2) on the basis of a finance leasing contract; and(3) satisfying one of the following conditions:

  • upon expiry of the lease under the contract, the lessee may take over ownership of leased assets or may continue to lease them under the agreement of the parties; or

  • upon expiry of the lease under the contract, the lessee shall have the priority right to purchase the leased assets at a nominal value less than the actual value of the leased assets as at the date of purchase; or

  • the minimum term of the lease of any single asset must equal at least 60% of the period necessary for depreciation of such leased asset; or

  • the total rent for any single asset stipulated in the finance lease contract must be equal at least to the value of such asset at the signing date of the contract.

From 29 September 2018, under Decree 131/2018, the Government decides to transfer the management of 19 larges State-owned enterprises (SOEs) from various Ministries to the Commission for the Management of State Capital at Enterprises (CMSC). Brief details of each SOE are provided below:

The core business of a bank (a Bank) is to take monies (Deposits) deposited by its customers (Depositors) and to lend such monies to its borrowers. Therefore, legally, it is important to determine who owns the Deposits. Unfortunately, Vietnamese banking law is not clear whether after the Depositors make a Deposit with the Bank, the Bank or the Deposit owns the Deposit.

The case for the Bank

The most logical conclusion is that:

·       the Bank is the owner of the Deposit;

·       the Depositor is not the owner of the Deposit, but the Depositor has a contractual right to request the Bank to return the Deposit to the Depositor in accordance with the terms of the Deposit; and

·       the borrower will own the Deposit after it borrows the same from the Bank.

In a recent post, we have discussed the concept of “wholesale” and “retail” as two forms of activities under the regulations concerning trading activities by FIEs in Vietnam. From the commercial perspective, “distribution” (phân phối) activities should involve the purchase or import of goods from suppliers for selling to customers. Thus, if an FIE has registered distribution business (i.e., wholesale or retail), it should naturally be able to import goods to sell within its distribution rights without being subject to further licensing requirements. However, this may not be justified from the legal perspective as the purchase of goods to sell in Vietnam or abroad by an FIE is classified as other forms of trading and should be licensed before implemented. Under Vietnamese regulations,

On 15 October 2018, the Government issued Decree 143/2018, which details regulation on compulsory social insurance (Social Insurance) applicable to foreign employees under the Social Insurance Law 2014. Before the issuance of Decree 143/2018, the Social Insurance Law 2014 only provides that foreign employees would be “allowed” to participate in Vietnam’s Social Insurance from 1 January 2018. For a long time, this vague regulation has given rise to concern as to whether the Social Insurance contribution for foreign employees is compulsory or voluntary. Decree 143/2018 now officially confirms that this is compulsory. In particular,

On 20 August 2018, the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MOIT) issued Circular 21/2018 to amend and supplement some articles of Circular 47 of the MOIT dated 05 December 2014 on management of e-commerce websites (Circular 47/2014) and Circular 59 of the MOIT dated 31 December 2015 on management of e-commerce activities via applications on mobile equipment (Circular 59/2015). Below are some notable provisions of Circular 21/2018.

Set out below are some legal issues in transfer of debts (Debts) from a credit institution (Originator) to a company licensed to trade debts in Vietnam (Debt Trading Co). Debt trading between a credit institution and a credit institution is useful for the credit institution to handle its bad debts or to issue assets-backed securities:

  • Credit institutions are allowed to negotiate loan interest rates based on market demand and supply and the creditworthiness without being restricted to maximum interest rate except in some cases. Meanwhile, interest rates of loans extended by non-credit institutions are subject to the maximum interest rate of 20% per annum under the Civil Code 2015. In practice, interest rates of consumer loans are quite high and could be higher than the maximum rate of 20% per annum. If the interest rate of the Debts is higher than 20% per annum, it is not clear at law whether the Debt Trading Co, upon owning the Debt, can continuously charge such interest rate;

In September 2018, the Government issues Decree 117/2018 on protection of customers information in banking sectors replacing Decree 70/2000. Decree 117/2018 applies to confidentiality, storage and providing of information by credit institutions and foreign bank branches (collectively referred to as CI) relating to the deposit and asset of customers with the CI. The following points are notable:

·       Decree 117/2018 does not apply to, among other things, information, which is classified as State secrets and which is governed by State secrets regulations. Under the old Decision 151/2003 of the Ministry of Police, information regarding customer deposits with a CI is classified as “State secret” at secret level. It is not clear if this classification still remains valid since Decision 45/2007 of the State Bank, which is based on Decision 151/2003, does not list customer deposit information as a State secret. Decree 117/2018 does not clarify this uncertainty;

Decree 9/2018 introduces a new approach regarding trading activities of foreign invested enterprises (FIE) in Vietnam. In particular, wholesale of most goods is not subject to the requirement of Trading License (Giấy Phép Kinh Doanh). However, Decree 9/2018 is still uncertain on the category of wholesale versus retail activities. A clearer definition of these concepts is important because an FIE conducting retail activities must apply for a Trading License with the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MOIT).

Under Decree 9/2018,

  • “wholesale” means the activities of selling goods to (a) wholesalers, (b) retailers, and (c) other traders, organizations; exclusive of retail activities;

  • “retail” means the activities of selling goods to (a) individuals, (b) households, and (c) other organizations for consumption purposes.

There are some issues arising from the above definitions under Decree 9/2018:

The Enterprise Law 2014 provides that in a meeting of the Board of a joint stock company (JSC), a Board director may authorise another person to attend if such authorisation is approved by the majority of members of the Board. However, the Enterprise Law 2014 is silent about the ability of a Board member to authorise another person to vote for such Board member if the Board decides to pass its decision by way of collecting written opinion of Board members.