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N.B. farmer jailed in Lebanon seeks extension of creditor protection in court

Grand Falls-area farmer Henk Tepper, of Tobique Farms, is show in this undated photo. The New Brunswick potato farmer who has been detained in Lebanon for more than 40 days is being improperly held on an international criminal warrant at the request of the Algerian government, according to his lawyer.

Mark Rickard/The Canadian Press/Mark Rickard/The Canadian Press

Lawyers for a New Brunswick potato farmer who has been jailed in Lebanon for four months wants a court to delay repayment of more than $8 million in the farm's debts.

Henk Tepper, 44, of Drummond has been held since March under an international arrest warrant over allegations some potatoes he exported to Algeria in 2007 were rotten.

His lawyer, Rod Gillis, said Monday that Mr. Tepper has sought protection in Court of Queen's Bench in Edmundston under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act.

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Mr. Gillis said his law firm has asked the court to extend creditor protection until mid-October, when Tepper's family expects to harvest potatoes.

James Mockler, a lawyer with Mr. Gillis's firm, said after leaving court Monday that the judge reserved decision on the matter.

Mr. Mockler said the creditors can't start bankruptcy proceedings until the judge gives a decision on the extension.

Mr. Mockler said the judge indicated a decision will likely come within two weeks.

Court documents filed by BMO Financial Group, the largest secured creditor, say the bank is committed to working with the Tepper family to find a solution to the financial troubles.

The bank also says in court documents it has discussed a longer-term solution that would involve the sale of land to reduce debt.

In addition, the bank has proposed to the court that the farm's debt be put before a mediation process with Farm Credit Canada, a federal agency.

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Mr. Mockler said the farm's owners oppose that option because they feel it provides less protection than the Companies' Creditor Protection Act.

Mr. Gillis said the initial creditor protection was set to expire Monday and they asked for a 90-day extension to allow the potatoes to be harvested and sold.

"At that point the company is in a reasonably positive cash position with everyone being paid," he said.

The Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act provides temporary relief for debtors as they attempt to rearrange their finances and present a repayment proposal for creditors to vote on.

Mr. Gillis said the situation has caused growing stress on Mr. Tepper, who has told the lawyer he is upset he cannot return to help his family with the crop.

"We're trying to get Tepper back from Lebanon so that he can run the farm and sell more potatoes," said Gillis.

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Mr. Tepper said in his court filings that he could return the farm to profitability if he were allowed to return to Canada.

He also said he is attempting to have the Export Development Corp. pay his company $1.1 million for potatoes the Crown corporation insured in a sale to a Russian company.

"The investigation is stalled because EDC requires information from me before it can close the file," he said in an affidavit.

Harmien Dionne, Tepper's sister, said running the farm in his absence is creating enormous stress on her family and her 68-year-old father, Berend Tepper.

"My dad retired and went out of the business, but since this happened my dad is taking over a bigger role," she said in an interview. "It's a huge strain. ... It's a huge responsibility taking care of the farm."

She said there are five workers on the roughly 200 hectares being farmed.


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