The head of collapsed Dubai commodities trader Phoenix has been ordered to pay just over US$19mn to Maltese lender Fimbank after the firm failed to repay money it owed under a trade finance facility.

The default judgement was handed down in the Dubai International Financial Centre Courts on January 28 after Gaurav Dhawan, Phoenix’s executive chairman and majority shareholder, failed to acknowledge or defend a suit filed by Fimbank in May last year.

Phoenix, which billed itself as one of the world’s top rice traders, collapsed in April 2020, reportedly owing some US$1.2bn to creditors including HSBC, Emirates NBD and First Abu Dhabi Bank.

Reports at the time said it racked up losses of around US$450mn on currency hedging bets that went awry, tipping the group of companies into insolvency.

Dhawan – and second defendant Geetanjali Grover, whose relationship with Phoenix was not made clear in the court documents – signed personal guarantees in August 2019 for a long-running purchase factoring agreement between Fimbank and Phoenix’s Dubai and British Virgin Islands entities, the bank’s claim says.

Between January 7 and March 13 2020, Fimbank paid Phoenix US$20mn under the arrangement for nine invoices, according to the claim. The claim does not identify the goods being traded or the payment terms.

The trader allegedly did not respond to payment reminders sent in April that year, and the following month the bank issued a notice of default.

Dhawan and Grover never responded to letters from the bank sent throughout 2020 demanding payment of the US$20mn, according to the claim.

The claim says Dhawan and Grover are both Indian nationals resident in the United Arab Emirates. The address given for the pair is a large villa in Emirates Hills, a gated community in Dubai.

In the judgement, Registrar Nour Hineidi ordered Dhawan and Grover to pay US$17.3mn – the outstanding US$20mn amount less a US$2.6mn sum offset by the bank – plus US$1.7mn in interest accrued since May 2020.

Interest of 9% per year will also apply to the judgement amount, until paid in full.

Dhawan and Grover could not be reached for comment. Fimbank did not respond to a request for comment sent via the lawyer representing the bank in the case.

Phoenix’s collapse was part of a rash of insolvencies in the commodities trading sector in Asia and the Middle East in the first few months of 2020, as liquidity dried up and commodity prices plummeted.

Liquidation proceedings for Phoenix are ongoing in the British Virgin Islands, Dubai and Singapore. Deloitte’s Paul Leggett, the liquidator of Dubai entity Phoenix Global DMCC, did not respond to a request for comment.

In 2020 another of Phoenix’s creditors, Australian agribusiness lender Thera Agri, filed a lawsuit against its insurance provider the Bond & Credit Company, which has refused to pay a A$7.3mn (US$5.2mn) claim after Phoenix failed to repay advances lent to purchase soft commodities.