Debt Vultures Shot for Chanukah
Liberia is saved but predators are still at large

Greg Palast

For In These Times

We got’m. I can hardly believe it.

Yesterday, the financial vultures, the carcass-chewers who were preying on the dirt-poor African nation of Liberia, gave up.

Two shadowy vulture funds, which had won a $43 million court judgment against Liberia, agreed to accept only $1.4 million to settle their claim following an investigation by our BBC Newsnight team. We had sought to determine if the vulture funds were covers for an elaborate fraud scheme. They folded rather than face further scrutiny and attacks from activists, Parliaments and Congress.

Refresher: In February, for BBC Television Newsnight and In These Times, our team hunted down a predator with a Ph.D., Dr. Eric Hermann, who, for a couple pennies

on the dollar, secretly bought the right to collect a $6 million debt owed by Liberia.

Hermann and his flock of vulture partners demanded Liberia pay $43 million—a devastating sum for that nation—or he would, in effect, block aid funding for Liberia’s recovery from civil war. The nation was now Hermann’s economic hostage.

I was investigating the strange links between Hermann and a company named Hamsah Investments; it smelled of fraud. Tipped off that I was about to arrive with a camera crew to question Hermann about this, his giant hedge fund operation in Harrison, N.Y., unbolted the company signs from the office building wall, locked their office doors and forced their staff to hide inside in silence.

I took the information to Liberia’s President Ellen Sirleaf and to the public worldwide via BBC. Within two days, Britain’s Parliament voted to stop vultures from using UK courts to collect from poor nations.

Congressman John Conyers (D-Mich.), after hearing our first report on vultures in 2007, personally confronted George Bush in the Oval Office demanding the President put an end to the ransom demands of the vultures—who happened to be the Republican Party’s top donors.

Bush did nothing, of course, but governments from Britain to Germany to Holland closed the courtroom doors on the vultures.

So “Hamsah”—or is that Dr. Hermann?—gave up. Hamsah and its mystery partner called “Wall Capital” are agreeing to accept about 3.3% of the sum they’d won in a British court.

Liberia is saved, but the vultures are not done. The number one donor to the Republican Party in New York, Paul Singer, is demanding $100 million from the Congo (Brazzaville); and his fellow vultures are still circling, looking for carcasses of nations devastated by war or famine or corruption.

But as this year’s Festivals of Light approach, we have a true miracle to celebrate. This is a rare moment in which investigative reporting and public revulsion made a difference in this cruel world.

And I am happy to report: Vulture tastes like chicken.

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Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestsellers The Best Democracy Money Can Buy (2003) and Armed Madhouse (2007), and co-author of Democracy and Regulations: How the Public Can Govern Essential Services (2003). Palast has won numerous awards for his investigative journalism. His stories have been published in many newspapers and magazines, as well as broadcast on the BBC and Democracy Now! His website is at www.GregPalast.com.

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