Portland-based Wex, which provides payment-processing technology and services, will buy the eNett and Optal for a substantially reduced price. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Portland’s Wex Inc. has settled a lawsuit brought by two United Kingdom business payment companies after it backed out of a $1.7 billion deal to buy them because of the financial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, Wex will buy the companies, eNett and Optal, for a substantially reduced price – about $578 million, according to a news release from the company Tuesday.

“Additionally, contemporaneously with the completion of the acquisition, Wex and the former shareholders of eNett and Optal have agreed to a full and final settlement of the litigation pending in the English courts relating to the previously announced purchase agreement,” the company said in a statement.

Wex agreed in January to buy eNett, a travel industry payment services company, and Optal, a business-to-business payment transaction company, from Elliot Management Corp., a New York hedge fund management firm. The deal was intended to increase Wex’s position in the global marketplace, part of its rapid growth in Maine and abroad.

Five months later, Wex was sued in a U.K. court after it tried to pull out of the purchase. The Portland company said it was allowed to cancel the deal because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the two company’s operations. The suit claimed Wex was violating the terms of the purchase agreement and had to complete the sale.

A British judge ruled in October that Wex could push ahead with its effort to cancel the purchase and argue at trial that the pandemic had hurt the two companies’ business so much that it triggered a clause in the deal that allowed it to withdraw.

Wex’s acquisition of the two companies, announced Tuesday, is for roughly one-third of the purchase price it had agreed to at the beginning of 2020.

“Though visibility remains limited due to COVID-19, Wex expects the impact of the acquisition on adjusted net income will be immaterial through calendar year 2021,” the company said in a statement.

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