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Bidders qualifying for beef plant auction

Dirk Lammers, Associated Press

FILE - This April 2, 2012 file photo shows the fabrication room of the Northern Beef Packers processing plant in Aberdeen, S.D. Northern Beef Packers, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in July, is one of a handful of large projects in South Dakota to solicit funds from the federal EB-5 program, which allows foreigners to get visas if they invest $500,000 to $1 million in projects or businesses that create jobs for U.S. citizens. State officials in September canceled a contract with a private company handling South Dakota’s EB-5 projects. (AP Photo/Dirk Lammers, File)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) -- Potential buyers of an idled, bankrupt South Dakota beef plant have until Friday to apply to become qualified bidders for the upcoming auction.

A minimum bid of $12.75 million was set for Northern Beef Packers — a fraction of the roughly $115 million invested on the plant and equipment. The sale includes the Aberdeen plant's property, fixtures, improvements, machinery, equipment and supplies.

The U.S. Bankruptcy Court will determine which applicants can participate in the Dec. 5 auction at the federal courthouse in Sioux Falls. An investment banking firm working with Northern Beef, White Oak Global Advisors, is automatically deemed a qualified bidder.

Judge Charles Nail finalized the sale procedures this week. Nail said in his ruling that shortly after the auction, the court will identify the successful bidder, the amount of the highest and best bid and any other terms to allow the sale to close within three days.

Northern Beef opened on a limited basis in 2012 after years of delays, but its owners filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in July and laid off most employees, saying the plant didn't have enough money to buy cattle for slaughter.

The company originally planned to seek a "stalking horse" bid in which one potential buyer makes an initial offer to set the floor for an auction that invites competitive bids. The plan was later changed to set a minimum bid amount.

Meanwhile, two of the foreign investor partnerships that loaned Northern Beef about $60 million through the federal EB-5 investment-for-green-cards immigration program have filed suit against the plant to get better placement among the long list of creditors.

South Dakota Investment Fund Limited Partnership No. 6 and South Dakota Investment Fund Limited Partnership No. 9 are asking the bankruptcy judge to declare their claims as "prior and superior to the liens and claims of all other parties" except for White Oak's claim of $45 million and any amount owed to an Aberdeen digging company.

The use of EB-5 funds in South Dakota has been the subject of a state and federal investigation. In September, the South Dakota Governor's Office of Economic Development ended its contract with SDRC Inc., the private regional center administering the EB-5 program in the state, "for cause."

Land for the Northern Beef plant was first secured in 2006, but the company wasn't able to slaughter its first animal until late in 2012 and struggled to reach anywhere near its production target of 1,500 head per day. With $138.8 million in liabilities and just $79.3 million in assets, according to court documents, the plant laid off most of its employees and halted production.


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