L&H awaits Friday court decision in Belgium

A Belgian court is scheduled to rule on Friday on the second request for bankruptcy protection under Belgian law by software vendor Lernout & Hauspie Speech Products NV (L&H), the company confirmed on Thursday.

The Belgian court held a four-hour hearing in Ieper, Belgium, on Wednesday to determine if the company’s bid for concordat – the Belgian equivalent of U.S. Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection – will be granted.

“The ruling is expected at 10 a.m. tomorrow, Belgian time. The court heard from all parties behind closed doors yesterday,” said an L&H spokeswoman.

L&H Chief Executive Officer (CEO) John Duerden is being quoted in the local Belgian press as saying L&H received a fair hearing, the spokeswoman said. The same court on Dec. 8 rejected the company’s first request for concordat on the grounds that L&H had failed to present sufficient detail concerning how it would proceed after winning protection from creditors.

In the U.S., L&H already operates under Chapter 11 of the U.S. bankruptcy law, and earlier this month, a Belgian judge appointed three officials to guard the company’s assets, a measure requested by a number of Belgian L&H shareholders.

The troubled company is also facing a separate investigation into fraud, ordered by a Belgian court in December as well as an investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for alleged improper business practices in relation to Asian subsidiaries. Specifically, the commission is looking into charges that US$100 million is missing from the coffers of the L&H South Korea unit.

Lernout & Hauspie, with dual headquarters in Ieper, Belgium and Burlington, Mass., can be reached at Ieper or at Burlington via the Web at http://www.lhsl.com/.