Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Corporate vultures plus 1, social justice dupes minus 100,000,000

There was an article in the Australian newspaper today about a recent settlement between a NY hedge fund and the Republic of Congo (not to be confused with the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is the former Zaire). Elliot management, a $10 billion dollar hedge fund, acquired 0.1 billion dollars of overdue debt from the RoC, one of the most impoverished companies on Earth. The reason this deal was not complete lunacy was geological- the RoC is Africa’s 4th largest oil producer, and with today’s record prices, their production is worth almost 12 billion dollars a year- allowing the country to pump Elliot’s net worth every 10 months. The problem was figuring out where all this money went.
Their first step was to get court injunctions allowing them to have assets seized to pay off this debt. This move was strongly condemned by the millionaire poverty activists like Bob Geldorff and Bono as perpetuating the cycle of African poverty. Ignoring these taunts, they then proceeded to do, using private investigators and their own money, what law enforcement agencies have been unwilling or unable to do for decades- they started tracking down the byzantine pathways by which the African oil was delivered to markets, and the financial conduits through which the money flowed. Where evidence of corrupt or illegal activity surfaced, they pressed for racketeering charges. And in a final act, they acquired and then published the credit card receipts of the president’s son, showing that he ran up a quarter of a million dollars in designer shopping bills in Paris while he people were struggling on a few dollars a day.
The end result is that the RoC decided that paying back debt might not be so impossible after all, in exchange for the cessation of the investigation. While this action does not have any direct impact on the plight of the country, there are substantial indirect benefits. By actually paying its debts, the RoC becomes a marginally less dodgy credit risk for future loans. More importantly, it puts the people in charge on notice that using oil and aid revenues for personal enrichment is not a risk-free strategy. Debt forgiveness would have accomplished neither of these things.
So I’m chalking this one up as a victory for the forces of quantification and data collection over those of emotion and ideology. Vultures 1, Activists zero. And minus $100,000,000 for the dictators, their money launderers, and associated forces of evil.


Silas said...

The breakthrough came in 2005, when Elliott detectives discovered that two consignments of Congo oil had been loaded on to a vessel called the Nordic Hawk for sale to Glencore, a British company set up by Marc Rich, the Swiss-based trader. Glencore intended to sell the oil on to BP in what should have appeared as a normal industry transaction. Kensington promptly applied to the High Court in London for injunctions to seize the proceeds of the Nordic Hawk consignments on the grounds that they were fraudulently concealed sales by the Brazzaville Government.

Too bad Hillary isn't getting elected, or she could pardon Marc Rich a second time! I see he's really learned his lesson and become a credit to society.

C W Magee said...

Count Hillary as an "associated force of evil"