Lehman Brothers, a 158-year-old investment bank choked by the credit crisis and falling real estate values, filed for Chapter 11 protection in the biggest bankruptcy filing ever on Monday and said it was trying to sell off key business units.
The filing was made in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of New York by Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., the bank's holding company.
Lehman plans an orderly liquidation of its assets in the coming months, and possibly years.
In London, the administrators who have taken control of key Lehman Brothers' businesses in the United Kingdom said it could take years to dispose of the company's assets to pay off creditors.
Tony Lomas of PriceWaterHouseCoopers said liquidating those assets will be more complex than disposing of Enron's European assets, which took six years after the U.S. energy company's 2001 bankruptcy.
Filing for Chapter 11 protection allows a company to restructure while creditor claims are held at bay. The company most likely chose to file under Chapter 11, rather than a Chapter 7 liquidation, so that it could retain more control over the selling off of assets, said Stephen Lubben, the Daniel J. Moore professor of law at Seton Hall Law School. In a Chapter 7 filing, the court would immediately appoint a trustee to take over the case.
In its bankruptcy petition, Lehman listed Citigroup among its biggest unsecured creditors, with about $138 billion in bonds as of July 2. The Bank of New York Mellon Corp. was listed as holding about $17 billion in debt.
Lehman said that as of May 31, it had assets of $639 billion and debt of $613 billion.