Trafigura + Vultures descend on Zambia
Toxic waste deal won’t halt case
A British law firm representing 4,000 victims of a toxic waste incident in Ivory Coast says it will not halt its group action against a Dutch company.
On Tuesday, Trafigura said it would pay $198m (£102m) to the Ivorian government for a clean-up and an inquiry.
Trafigura director Claude Dauphin and two other businessman, who were arrested and jailed,
have been freed.
Ten people died and many fell ill after waste was shipped to Abidjan and left around the city in August 2006.
In a statement, Mr Dauphin said: “We went to Ivory Coast on a mission to help the people of
Abidjan, and to find ourselves arrested in jail as a result has been a terrible
Jean-Pierre Valentini, also a Trafigura executive, and Kablan N’Zi, a representative of a Trafigura subsidiary, Puma Energy, were also freed.
Greenpeace, however, criticised the agreement and expressed concerns over whether the truth would be made known to the public. It said: “This pact with the devil certainly has the advantage of providing
the funds to Ivory Coast to pay for expensive clean up operations, but it prevents full light to be shed on what happened.”
The oil trading company say the agreement is not “damages” and that there is no admission of liability
on their part for whatever happened.
As part of the deal, the Ivory Coast will drop any prosecutions or claims, now or in the future, against the firm.
“It’s a good agreement that will allow the state to compensate the victims,”
Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo told journalists late on Tuesday.
But some victims told the BBC they were sure they would receive no money at all, alleging that the government would steal it.
British law firm Leigh Day & Co says it will continue its case. “We’re going to carry on until our
clients are properly compensated and fully compensated for all the losses that
they have suffered,” says Sapna Malik.
“If they receive some form of interim payment from the settlement in the deal that’s been struck with the president, that’s all well and good, but until they receive full compensation for the harm, we’re going to carry on.”
Thousands suffered diarrhoea, vomiting, breathing problems and nosebleeds and 10 died, say Ivorian health officials.
After announcing the clean-up settlement Eric de Turckheim, a Trafigura director, said: “Both the Ivorian government and Trafigura can now move forward together to act in the best interests of the people of Abidjan.”
He said Trafigura would continue doing business in the Ivory Coast.
Trafigura first attempted to discharge the chemical slops from one of its tankers, the Probo Koala, in the Dutch port of Amsterdam in early August. But the company that was to dispose of the waste suddenly increased its charges dramatically – asking for more to treat the waste. Trafigura refused,
and the tanker proceeded to Nigeria. There it failed to reach an agreement with two local firms about offloading the waste and only in Ivory Coast did it find a company to handle the waste.
On 19 August the waste was discharged near Abidjan, the commercial capital. Two weeks later the first complaints arose. Instead of being incinerated as it should have been, the waste had been
Trafigura said it had been given to a local accredited company in Abidjan’s main port to deal with properly.
Zambia loses ‘vulture fund’ case
A High Court judge has ruled that Zambia must pay a substantial sum to a so-called “vulture fund”.
British Virgin Islands-based Donegal International paid less than $4m for a debt the African nation owed, but sued Zambia for a $42m repayment.
It said its bill was the result of interest and costs, but the judge will decide how much Zambia should pay.
The ruling has angered anti-debt campaigners, who say it will undermine Zambia’s plans for poverty reduction.
Vulture funds – as defined by the International Monetary Fund and UK Chancellor Gordon Brown among
others – are companies which buy up the debt of poor nations cheaply when it is about to be written off, then sue for the full value of the debt plus interest. There are concerns that such funds are wiping out the benefits which international debt relief was supposed to bring to poor countries.
A Zambian presidential adviser and consultant to Oxfam, Martin Kalunga-Banda, said $42m
was equal to all the debt relief it received last year.
“It means 30,000 children who would have benefited from going to school free will not be able to
do so,” he told the BBC.
“It also means the treatment, the Medicare, the medicines that would have been available to in excess of 100,000 people in the country will not be available.”
Mr Kalunga-Banda added that while the repayment might be legal, it arose from debts accrued when the country was under “an undemocratic system”.
“The consequences of the debt are impacting on the people of Zambia,” he said. “The Zambians at that time did not even have even the capacity to know this was happening and that is probably what brings in this issue of unfairness.”
In 1979, the Romanian government lent Zambia money to buy Romanian tractors.
Zambia was unable to keep up the payments and in 1999, Romania and Zambia negotiated to liquidate the debt for $3m.
But before the deal could be finalised, Donegal International, which is part owned by US-based Debt Advisory International (DAI) stepped in and bought the debt from Romania for less than $4m.
DAI founder Michael Sheehan was confronted by the BBC’s Newsnight programme before the court ruling, but said only: “No comment. I’m in litigation. It’s not my debt.”
In 2002, Gordon Brown told the United Nations that the vulture funds were perverse and immoral.
“We particularly condemn the perversity where vulture funds purchase debt at a reduced price and make a profit from suing the debtor country to recover the full amount owed – a morally
outrageous outcome.” Jubilee Debt campaigner Caroline Pearce said that vulture funds “made a mockery” of the work done by governments to write off the debts of the poorest – a key theme of 2005’s Live8 concert.
“Profiteering doesn’t get any more cynical than this,” Ms Pearce said. “Zambia has been
planning to spend the money released from debt cancellation on much-needed nurses, teachers and infrastructure. “This is what debt cancellation is intended for, not to line the pockets of businessmen based in rich countries.”
mood: thankful to be finally thawed out!
sounds: dead air of headphones…