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Feast of the Vultures

Dec 8, 2003

Two investment firms are suing Nicaragua for full repayment of defaulted debt from the 1980s. The outcome could establish precedents with far-reaching repercussions.

Nicaragua is a poor country that has suffered civil wars, natural disasters and a series of corruption scandals that have led to the detention in jail of former president Arnaldo Alemán. The present government says it is trying to end corruption, reduce poverty - average incomes are just $500 a year - and qualify for debt relief under the Highly Indebted Poor Country Initiative (HIPCI). Now it is having to fend off a group of US investors who are suing the government for full repayment of defaulted commercial bank debt from the 1980s, plus accrued interest.

Leucadia National Corp., a troubled New York-based conglomerate, and Van Eck, a New York investment fund, bought the debt eight years ago for a few cents on the dollar. If they get their way, their Nicaraguan investment will repay spectacularly. Van Eck alone bought about $50 million in face value Nicaraguan loans, which if it were to...

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