Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Financial 'vultures' poised to swoop on Africa through Jersey'soffshore loophole

From the Eagle Watch #194
November 28, 2011

This message is about DRC Democratic Republic of Congo where the people know all about diamond cartels.   DRC is the 2nd poorest country in the world.  African people are the Indigenous of Africa.

From: "marksimonbrown" <mark@tlio.org.uk>

American "vulture" investors, including a top funder of the Republican Party, have demanded that African nations pay over half a billion dollars for old debts – for which the investors paid only a few million for. One New York vulture speculator, Peter Grossman of FG Capital Management, is demanding $100 million from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Is he collecting a legitimate debt from the Congo — or is the vulture's claim based on a stolen security? Greg Palast reports from the Congo, Bosnia and New York in the joint investigation by the BBC, the Guardian and Democracy Now!
See: http://www.democracynow.org/2011/11/22/reporter_greg_palast_exposes_how_us

1). Vulture funds await Jersey decision on poor countries' debts

& also
2). Vultures feed when economies are turned into rotting carcasses


Vulture funds await Jersey decision on poor countries' debts

Pressure grows to end trade that has made $1bn for speculators but has been blamed for delaying recovery of war-torn countries

by Greg Palast, Maggie O'Kane and Chavala Madlena, The Guardian, Tuesday 15 November 2011
Ref: http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2011/nov/15/vulture-funds-jersey-decision-debts
[On the above url, watch the video by Greg Palast in a special investigation on vulture funds by Guardian Films and BBC Newsnight in which Palast interviews Peter Grossman of FG Capital Management who Palast tracks down outside his New York residence]
Link to this video: http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/video/2011/nov/15/financial-vultures-africa-jersey-video

Jean Ngaigy, the head of a school in Lepaigagone, interprets the words of one of her six-year-old students. The girl is happy to have a school now. Her favourite subjects are maths and French.

Like many children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, both the girl's parents were killed in the country's civil war, which left up to 7.2 million people dead. Now, though, a fragile peace in the town, outside the capital Kinshasa, means mines are reopening and the factory is coming back to life. The school has been rebuilt and has running water. In the DRC, that represents hope.

The DRC should be one of Africa's richest countries. It has a mineral wealth estimated to be around $24 trillion (£15tn). There are huge deposits of cobalt, diamonds, gold, copper, oil and 80% of the world's supplies of coltan ore – a valuable mineral used in computers and mobile phones.

Yet 100 women a week are still dying in childbirth and 16,000 children under the age of five die every year. One in three children in the DRC will never get anything more than primary education.

One of the reasons the country has been unable to recover is that it is being pursued by international debt speculators, known as vulture funds, through offshore tax havens such as Jersey, for debts that were run up during 30 years of war and civil war.

Vulture funds operate by buying up a country's debt when it is in a state of chaos. When the country has stabilised, vulture funds return to demand millions of dollars in interest repayments and fees on the original debt. New York vulture fund FG Hemisphere has gone to Jersey to claim $100m from the DRC because a legal loophole means that the island remains free of anti-vulture laws that were passed in the UK last year.

Jersey will decide next month whether to allow its courts to let the $100m go to FG Hemisphere.

It has been 16 years since most of the world began writing off the debts of the world's poorest countries, but the vulture funds, a club of between 26 and 35 speculators, have ignored the debt concerts by pop stars such as Bono and pleas from the likes of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to give the countries a break and a chance to get back on their feet.

Congo-Brazzaville has been a particularly fruitful target for vulture funds, being ravaged by conflict but rich in natural resources. One of the earliest cases against the country came in 1996 when $30m worth of Congolese sovereign debt was purchased by Kensington International Inc, a subsidiary of the well-established hedge fund Elliott Associates, headed by prominent vulture financier Paul Singer.

Singer, a major contributor to the Republican party, reportedly bought the debt at a significant discount and began pursuing lawsuits against the impoverished African nation through the world's courtrooms. Bloomberg has reported that Congo-Brazzaville has spent an estimated $5m fighting Singer's lawsuits. Finally in 2005 Kensington International was awarded $39m in the UK high court.

So far, according to the World Bank, the top 26 vultures have managed to collect $1bn from the world's poorest countries and still have a further $1.3bn to collect. Gordon Brown has described the payouts as "morally outrageous".

The World Bank has described vulture funds as "a threat to debt relief efforts" and the former, Bush-era US treasury secretary Henry Paulson said: "I deplore what the vulture funds are doing" in testimony before the House of Representatives' financial committee in 2007.

In terms of public donations, the impact of the vulture funds is huge. The $1bn collected by the funds is equivalent to more than double the International Committee of the Red Cross's entire budget for Africa in 2011. $1bn could fund the entire UN appeal for the famine in Somalia and is more than twice the amount of money raised by Save the Children last year.

Vulture funds also scare off new investors, who the vultures will target their investment, from a country. In the DRC, a large US company with plans to invest millions in mining pulled out last year after one vulture sued it as a result of its business with the DRC government.

It is thought FG Hemisphere bought the debt for which it is claiming $100m in the Jersey court for $3.3m, with the help of another vulture fund, Debt Advisory International (DAI).

FG Hemisphere, headed by Peter Grossman and DAI, run by Michael Sheehan – both men were former Morgan Stanley consultants – have attempted to collect on the debt by suing DRC state companies and their foreign investors.

When interviewed as part of a joint investigation between Newsnight and the Guardian, Grossman defending his involvement in the DRC, saying "he wasn't beating up on the Congo but collecting on a legitimate debt". The last decade has seen FG and DAI chase the DRC, for the same debt, in the United States, Jersey, Hong Kong and Australia. In 2010, Britain passed a law banning vulture funds from collecting in UK courts. But the legislation failed to mention Jersey. Because Jersey is not specifically mentioned, it is automatically excluded under British law, a loophole that FG Hemisphere immediately exploited.

Grossman said it was not the vultures whose activities needed to be investigated but mismanagement in the DRC. He also denied having any knowledge that, as alleged by the Bosnian police, the debt was acquired illegally in the first place.

Sheehan, who is nicknamed Goldfinger, brokered the original deal with Bosnian state company EnergoInvest and owns some of the debt. The DRC originally owed the money to EnergoInvest for a contract to build power lines.

But as Grossman looks for payment from DRC through the Jersey legal system, the world's biggest charities, including Oxfam, Christian Aid and Jubilee Debt Campaign UK, are appealing to Jersey to close the loophole.

Jubilee Debt Campaign UK, which has been campaigning for debt relief for over a decade, is sending a representative to Jersey next week to put the case directly to the island's government to close the vulture funds' loophole.

Tim Jones, of Jubilee Debt Campaign, said: "The DRC is the second poorest country in the world. The country desperately needs to be able to use its rich resources to alleviate poverty, not squander them on paying unjust debts to vulture funds left by the dictator Joseph Mobutu. Jersey has to shut vulture funds down."

UK legislation on vulture funds has already had an impact, when Liberia last year reached agreement to repay just over 3% of the face value of a $43m debt.

That case was originally brought by two Caribbean-based vulture funds, Hamsah Investments and Wall Capital Ltd, over a debt dating back to the 1970s and it sparked a furore when the high court ordered Liberia to repay the full debt in 2009. Liberia mobilised debt campaigners, who pushed for a change in the law, resulting in the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Act 2010 being passed.

The law, a world first, requires commercial creditors to comply with the terms of international debt cancellation schemes, which specify a single discount rate for creditors to ensure equal treatment.

The law applies to the UK courts and ensures that public money given towards debt cancellation is not diverted to private investors.

The World Bank estimates that more than one-third of the countries which have qualified for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt relief have been targeted by vulture funds. HIPC countries are those whose debt is unsustainable and qualify for loans from the World Bank's International Development Association or the IMF's poverty reduction and growth facility.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is poised on the edge of a fragile peace but elections later this month could again destabilise the country. Having spent $5m fighting off the vulture funds, the DRC is waiting for news from 4,000 miles away, where Jersey will decide whether the vultures will get their money.

Additional reporting by the Centre for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo, Josh Strauss and Nicolas Niarchos

• This article was amended on 22 November 2011 to correct two references from the DRC to Congo-Brazzaville.


Vultures feed when economies are turned into rotting carcasses
by Greg Palast, The Guardian, Wednesday 16 November 2011
Ref: http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/poverty-matters/2011/nov/16/vultures-feed-economies-rotting-carcasses

The vulture funds circling the debts of poorer countries are feeding after economies have been looted at the behest of the World Bank, IMF and privateers

If God doesn't give a rat's arse about "The Vulture", and what he does for a living, and what he's done to Africa, why should I?

The thought struck me while sitting here, coffee getting cold, in my old Toyota, trying to look invisible, staked out in front of 300 De Kalb Avenue, in Brooklyn, New York. It's just after dawn and I'm hoping that Peter Grossman, a Wall Street star, will pop out of his posh brownstone for a jog or a cup of coffee. Then I can jump him. He's on the lookout for me because I'd already jumped his acquaintance, Goldfinger, the man who's making Grossman stunningly rich.

Grossman's riches, nearly $100m for his firm, FG Management, come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I was just there in Congo, two days before this stakeout, at a cholera quarantine centre in the capital, Kinshasa.

Besides lots of cholera, Congo has lots of cobalt. Grossman has, through a crazy legal loophole in British law, waylaid a payment of $80m to the African government for a shipment of cobalt from a government-owned mine.

Grossman is a "vulture", the name Wall Street gives, with an affectionate smile, to those who can get their hands on old, forgotten debts of desperately poor nations – Congo, Zambia, Peru and Liberia are cases I've investigated – that they pick up for pennies on the pound of face value.

When – usually after a Bono concert – western nations forgive debts owed by these poor countries, the nation receiving this aid is now ripe enough, and flush enough, for attack by a vulture, who demands many a pound of flesh for the debt he suddenly brandishes.

In Grossman's case, his company paid about $3m for a debt Zaire (now Congo) owed Yugoslavia (now Bosnia). A court on the tiny island of Jersey, a tax haven in the Channel, has ordered Congo to turn over the $80m it has in a bank account there, the payment for the cobalt. Furthermore, Congo must pay an additional $20m to Grossman if the country can find the money.

If that seems nuts to you, it is. The UK and other nations bar collections by vultures against poor countries where western government treasuries have agreed to give up their own claims. However, Grossman was free to sue Congo in Jersey, a pseudo-colony of Britain, because the UK parliament failed to include the words, "and Jersey" in its anti-vulture law.

How did Grossman got his hands on Congo's debt to Bosnia? That's what I was waiting in the Brooklyn cold to ask him.

Here's what I can piece together. Only three days before I was in the Congo cholera clinic, I was in the office of the chief of financial police in Sarajevo, Bosnia. With the help of the Centre for Investigative Reporting in Bosnia, we tracked down the police report asserting that the nation's own prime minister had slipped control of the debt to one Michael Sheehan, aka Goldfinger who, for a fee, passed it from the Bosnia state power company to Grossman. The Bosnian police chief told me this little business with the Congo debt was a crime, and the (now former) prime minister, Nedzad Brankovic, should be in prison. Yet, to date, prosecutors have not acted.

I got to the man who blew the whistle on Brankovic, Brigadier General Izet Spahic. He'd worked out a deal for the Bosnia power company (desperately broke) to make power pylons for Congo (desperately broke). The project would generate electricity, clean water and profits for both nations.

It was quite a heart-warming story of two nations coming out of civil wars, with a combined total of 4 million dead, helping each other. But when it was discovered that The Vulture in Brooklyn had control of the debt between the nations, the electricity deal was off.

I went by the Bosnia pylon-making factory. It was now shut and its several thousand workers were gone. At least there's no cholera.

The brigadier general was furious: how could these people think about making a profit off civil war, poverty and unimaginable suffering? When do humans grow feathers and claws?

It's a question I'm going to ask Grossman when he comes out because the Guardian and BBC Newsnight want me to ask it. For me, The Vulture's answer is inconsequential to the bigger picture.

I assume that after we break our story, parliament will move to close the loophole it so glaringly left open to The Vulture; and the US Congress will at least pretend to consider anti-vulture legislation, now languishing in some committee.

But I think the focus on Grossman and his fellow carrion chewers is distracting. The destruction of Bosnia's power-pylon industry was the direct consequence of privatising it, bringing the free market to socialist Yugoslavia and Brankovic to power over its debts, allowing him to buy and sell debt securities on the deregulated world financial market.

It was the privatisation of Congo's state cobalt mine and the looting of its riches, all at the behest of the World Bank, IMF and privateers, that drained Congo's treasury.

Grossman is just the repo man, the last of the financial carnivores who've bitten into Congo and Bosnia – and Greece and Detroit.

Grossman's vulture operation is just over the bridge from Occupied Wall Street, which was occupied at the bottom by protesters, "the 99%", and is occupied at the top by "the 1%", those who kill economies for a profit.

It's easy to target Grossman. But vultures can only feast when the system kills, when, for easy profits, economies are turned into rotting carcasses.

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