New Brunswick

Creditor protection extended for Tepper farm

The family of New Brunswick farmer Henk Tepper, who is languishing in a Lebanese jail, won a short reprieve for the family farm in an Edmundston courtroom Monday.

Bank fights for changes to creditor protection

The family of New Brunswick farmer Henk Tepper, who is languishing in a Lebanese jail, won a short reprieve for the family farm in an Edmundston courtroom Monday.

A judge of the Court of Queen's Bench granted an extension to creditor protection until July 29 for Tobique Farms, which is located in the northwestern New Brunswick community of Drummond.

The Tepper family had been seeking an extension until Oct. 18, so that crops now in the field could be harvested and the revenue generated be paid back to creditors.

BMO, the farm's main creditor, has some issues with the way the business is being run in his absence.

The bank is also applying to change an element of the creditor protection arrangements that allows the farm to sell off assets to pay legal fees and other costs.

According to court documents, the Tobique Corporations didn't give the bank proper notice they were filing for creditor protection. They owe BMO more than $8 million and the bank wants to protect its interests.

Arrested 4 months ago

Lawyer James Mockler visited Tepper recently in Beirut, and spoke to him through the bars of his prison cell.

"The conditions are worse than deporable. I own a dog, I wouldn't keep my pet in a facility such as that," Mockler said Monday.

"The heat there is incredible, the humidity is easily 37 degrees on the outside. The only ventilation that they offered was a huge fan at the door that was directed inward. It didn't offer any comfort to anybody at all."

Tepper was detained in Lebanon under a criminal warrant on March 23 issued by Interpol at the request of the government of Algeria. Tepper is accused of altering the Canadian Food Inspection Agency documents that went with the potato shipment.

There are also reports the RCMP knew of the Interpol warrant against Tepper last year.

Tepper's fight to get out of the Lebanese jail has become an issue inside the House of Commons. At times, the Tepper family has been critical of the responses they've been given by the Department of Foreign Affairs in the ongoing incarceration.

Battle bank

Meanwhile in Canada, the Teppers are fighting a different battle with a bank.

Anna Graham, the Teppers' account manager with BMO, said she was very surprised the Tobique Corporations filed for creditor protection and the financial institution wasn't given proper notice.

She said BMO did not intend to seize any of the assets of Tobique Corporations, but had discussed selling some off as a longer-term solution to reduce their $8-million debt to the institution.

Graham said the Tobique Corporations' financial problems started before Tepper was put in jail.

One of the key difficulties was collecting on unpaid bills from foreign countries, including Russia.

BMO wants the farm to reduce the legal retainer they're paying out to $30,000 from $200,000 and the monitor's stake in the property to $150,000 from $500,000.

Family helping farm

While the family is facing the court challenge, members of the Tepper family are coming to the northwestern New Brunswick farm to help out.

Henk Tepper's brother Jan left his own farm in Manitoba and drove 33 hours to arrive in Drummond on Friday.

"I'm here to support my sister, to support my mom and dad and the rest of the family. This is tough," Jan Tepper said.

Long-time employees are planting this year's crop and are tending to the plants.

Even Berend Tepper, Henk's father, has come out of retirement to help manage the operation.

Harmiena Dionne, Henk's sister, said it was a huge relief when a judge granted them creditor protection last month.

She said the existing agreement means "there's no way Henk or Dad can lose the farm."

Dionne said the financial problems have only added to the family's burden, especially her father.

"It's putting an awful strain on my father. I've been trying to stay out of that part because I'm not involved with the farm itself. But I know for my dad, it's been a big strain," Dionne said.