The word bankruptcy is formed from the ancient Latin bancus (a bench or table), and ruptus (broken). A “bank” originally referred to a bench, which the first bankers had in the public places, in markets, fairs, etc. on which they tolled their money, wrote their bills of exchange, etc. Hence, when a banker failed, he broke his bank, to advertise to the public that the person to whom the bank belonged was no longer in a condition to continue his business. As this practice was very frequent in Italy, it is said the term bankrupt is derived from the Italian banca rotta, broken bank (see e.g. Ponte Vecchio).
In Ancient Greece, bankruptcy did not exist. If a man owed and he could not pay, he and his wife, children or servants were forced into “debt slavery“, until the creditor recouped losses via their physical labour. Many city-states in ancient Greece limited debt slavery to a period of five years and debt slaves had protection of life and limb, which regular slaves did not enjoy. However, servants of the debtor could be retained beyond that deadline by the creditor and were often forced to serve their new lord for a lifetime, usually under significantly harsher conditions.
In the Torah, or Old Testament, every seventh year is decreed by Mosaic Law as a Sabbatical year wherein the release of all debts that are owed by members of the community is mandated, but not of “foreigners”. The seventh Sabbatical year, or forty-ninth year, is then followed by another Sabbatical year known as the Year of Jubilee wherein the release of all debts is mandated, for fellow community members and foreigners alike, and the release of all debt-slaves is also mandated. The Year of Jubilee is announced in advance on the Day of Atonement, or the tenth day of the seventh Biblical month, in the forty-ninth year by the blowing of trumpets throughout the land of Israel.
In Islamic teaching, according to the Qur’an, an insolvent person was deemed to be allowed time to be able to pay out his debt. This is recorded in the Qur’an’s second chapter (Sura Al-Baqara), Verse 280, which notes: “And if someone is in hardship, then let there be postponement until a time of ease. But if you give from your right as charity, then it is better for you, if you only knew.”
The Statute of Bankrupts of 1542 was the first statute under English law dealing with bankruptcy or insolvency. Bankruptcy is also documented in East Asia. According to al-Maqrizi, the Yassa of Genghis Khan contained a provision that mandated the death penalty for anyone who became bankrupt three times.
A failure of a nation to meet bond repayments has been seen on many occasions. Philip II of Spain had to declare four state bankruptcies in 1557, 1560, 1575 and 1596. According to Kenneth S. Rogoff, “Although the development of international capital markets was quite limited prior to 1800, we nevertheless catalog the numerous defaults of France, Portugal, Prussia, Spain, and the early Italian city-states. At the edge of Europe, Egypt, Russia, and Turkey have histories of chronic default as well.”
Modern law and debt restructuring
The principal focus of modern insolvency legislation and business debt restructuring practices no longer rests on the elimination of insolvent entities but on the remodeling of the financial and organisational structure of debtors experiencingfinancial distress so as to permit the rehabilitation and continuation of their business.
For private households, it is argued to be insufficient to merely dismiss debts after a certain period. It is important to assess the underlying problems and to minimise the risk of financial distress to re-occur. It has been stressed that debt advice, a supervised rehabilitation period, financial education and social help to find sources of income and to manage household expenditures better need to be equally provided during this period of rehabilitation (Reifner et al., 2003; Gerhardt, 2009; Frade, 2010). In most EU Member States, debt discharge is conditioned by a partial payment obligation and by a number of requirements concerning the debtor’s behavior. In the United States (US), discharge is conditioned to a lesser extent. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the spectrum is broad in the EU, with the UK coming closest to the US system (Reifner et al., 2003; Gerhardt, 2009; Frade, 2010). Other Member States do not provide the option of a debt discharge. Spain, for example, passed a bankruptcy law (ley concursal) in 2003 which provides for debt settlement plans that can result in a reduction of the debt (maximally half of the amount) or an extension of the payment period of maximally five years (Gerhardt, 2009); nevertheless, it does not foresee debt discharge.
Bankruptcy fraud is a white-collar crime. While difficult to generalise across jurisdictions, common criminal acts under bankruptcy statutes typically involve concealment of assets, concealment or destruction of documents, conflicts of interest, fraudulent claims, false statements or declarations, and fee fixing or redistribution arrangements. Falsifications on bankruptcy forms often constitute perjury. Multiple filings are not in and of themselves criminal, but they may violate provisions of bankruptcy law. In the U.S., bankruptcy fraud statutes are particularly focused on the mental state of particular actions. Bankruptcy fraud is a federal crime in the United States.
All assets must be disclosed in bankruptcy schedules whether or not the debtor believes the asset has a net value. This is because once a bankruptcy petition is filed, it is for the creditors, not the debtor to decide whether a particular asset has value. The future ramifications of omitting assets from schedules can be quite serious for the offending debtor. A closed bankruptcy may be reopened by motion of a creditor or the U.S. trustee if a debtor attempts to later assert ownership of such an “unscheduled asset” after being discharged of all debt in the bankruptcy. The trustee may then seize the asset and liquidate it for the benefit of the (formerly discharged) creditors. Whether or not a concealment of such an asset should also be considered for prosecution as fraud and/or perjury would then be at the discretion of the judge and/or U.S. Trustee.
Why Choose Hill & Rainey Attorneys?
The Office of Hill and Rainey Attorneys practices law in the cities of Colonial Heights, Petersburg and Hopewell, as well as in the counties of Dinwiddie, Chesterfield and Prince George, and throughout central Virginia.