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Protesters angry at Dechert’s representation of so-called vulture funds held a demonstration outside the firm’s City office yesterday.
Members of Jubilee Debt Campaign (JDC), which fights against third-world debt, gathered outside Dechert’s Blackfriars office for a ‘charity cake sale’, which the group claimed was to raise money to help “wean Dechert off the unprincipled money they make through vulture cases”.
JDC took no donations at the protest, saying the real aim of the demonstration was to hand out leaflets about Dechert. The group claims that the firm’s actions on behalf of vulture funds, so called because they buy debt from impoverished countries’ creditors at a reduced price and then sue for the full amount in court, contradicts its desire to be a socially responsible firm.
The protest took place two days before the second reading of a bill to stop vulture funds using British courts to pursue their claims is heard in the House of Commons.
“We’re focusing on Dechert because they represented vulture funds against Liberia last year and so are one of the most recent firms involved with vulture funds,” said JDC campaigns and communications director Jonathan Stevenson, “but also because they’re actively lobbying against the law [restricting the activities of vulture funds] we’re trying to get passed”.
In November 2009 Dechert represented two vulture funds, Hamsah Investments and Wall Capital, in a High Court case against Liberia, winning a £12m judgment in favour of the funds in relation to debt contracted by Liberia 32 years ago.
The firm also made submissions on behalf of a number of hedge fund clients opposing a consultation paper by the Government published in July 2009 entitled ‘Ensuring Debt Relief for Poor Countries: A Consultation on Legislation’.
On Friday 26 February the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill, a Private Members Bill that aims to curb the ability of vulture funds to pursue debts against poor nations through the British courts, will have its second reading in the House of Commons.
Dechert is not the only firm to have represented vulture funds. In 2007 Allen & Overy acted for US company Donegal, which was pursuing a £27.7m debt claim against Zambia. DLA Piper acted for Zambia (30 April 2007).