Staff of Lehman Brothers vacating their office when the bank collapsed in 2008.
NEW YORK: The debtors of Lehman Brothers, whose stunning collapse in 2008 sparked global financial panic, emerged from a record bankruptcy Tuesday in a step toward the final chapter for the once-powerful Wall Street investment bank.
The liquidators running Lehman Brothers Holdings said it had exited Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and would begin repaying creditors, whose claims total about $450 billion.
"We are proud to announce Lehman's exit from Chapter 11 and entrance into the final stage of this process -- distributions to creditors," said John Suckow, Lehman's president and chief operating officer and also managing director of Lehman's restructuring adviser Alvarez & Marsal.
"Our objective remains to provide the best results possible for creditors -- by continuing to strategically position assets to produce strong values, to pursue the resolution of disputed claims and other matters in litigation, and to manage expenses in line with the asset disposition process," he said in a statement.
Lehman said payments to creditors were to begin on April 17 with a $10 billion payout as it heads toward a complete liquidation of the remaining assets, valued at roughly $65 billion.
The country's largest ever bankruptcy three years ago triggered an unprecedented shock to the global financial system.
Before its collapse, Lehman Brothers, one of Wall Street's most prestigious firms, had $639 billion in assets, with business in more than 40 countries.
In November the creditors of the former fourth-largest US investment bank approved a liquidation plan; a bankruptcy judge gave the go-ahead in December.
Collectively, creditors claim about $450 billion. They are expected to receive less than a seventh of their initial claims.
Of the $65 billion in recovered assets, $30 billion is in cash and the remaining $35 billion is in illiquid assets that need to be monetised for distribution.
The final dismantling of Lehman could take up to five years, with payments to creditors made twice a year until complete.
In the United States, the recovered assets are expected to be paid first to priority creditors such as government tax services and the government-seized mortgage finance lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Lehman, the poster child of the global financial meltdown, declared bankruptcy on September 15, 2008, after its risky bets on the US housing market soured.
Just after Lehman's collapse, rival bank Barclays swept in and bought Lehman's headquarters building in New York and hired some of its employees in trading and investment.
Japanese financial giant Nomura acquired most of Lehman's activities in Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
The officials overseeing the bankruptcy have called it the largest and most complex in history, involving 7,000 legal entities in 40 countries at a cost expected to reach $5 billion.
In the United States, 450 ex-Lehman employees are working on the liquidation, as well as 75 people from Alvarez & Marsal.
The bankruptcy unleashed more than 75 separate court procedures and creditors are battling over the payouts.
In mid-February, Lehman's creditors asked a federal court to force US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to testify in a civil suit against JPMorgan Chase's role in the bankruptcy.
The creditors accuse JPMorgan of using inside information from the government and the New York Federal Reserve, then headed by Geithner, to squeeze cash out of Lehman to their bank's advantage in the final week before it collapsed.
JPMorgan Chase, which loaned $70 billion to Lehman, is now Lehman's single largest creditor and insists it should be repaid before any other creditor, according to the court documents.
In another case, Citigroup is seeking to recover $2.5 billion from Lehman.