First there was Occupy Brooklyn. Now there’s occupy Peter Grossman’s front yard!
Protesters have been demonstrating outside a Clinton Hill financier’s home to lash out against his attempts to collect millions in debt owed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo — one of the world’s poorest nations — and they refuse to go away.
“We’re not going to stop!” said Kambale Musavuli, a spokesman for Friends of the Congo. “This is an American who’s coming in just like a vulture to take what little is left.”
More than a dozen activists — several of whom hail from Occupy Wall Street — began rallying outside Grossman’s DeKalb Avenue residence late last month after the British newspaper The Guardian published articles painting Grossman as a vulture who snaps up the debt of poor nations, then sues for the full value of the debt plus millions of dollars in interest and fees. Opponents to this practice call the buyouts “vulture funds.”
Grossman’s company, FG Hemisphere, bought some of the African country’s debt to Bosnia for $3 million a decade ago. The Congo borrowed the money from Bosnia so it could place power lines throughout its country.
After struggling in court rooms around the world to retrieve his dues, Grossman successfully sued the war-torn country for $100 million last year in a court on the tiny U.K. island of Jersey, which isn’t covered by U.K. anti-vulture laws.
Grossman’s family blasted the media reports as “factually inaccurate and highly sensationalized,” and claim the protests amount to harassment.
“People are saying that my husband runs a billion-dollar hedge fund,” said his wife, Sarah Weir. “A guy who lives on DeKalb Avenue is running a hedge fund? The media reports are completely nuts!”
FG Hemisphere’s website has a lengthy response from Grossman, stating he sued the Congo because the government idled on its pledge to repay his company.
“The story is more complicated than is being portrayed,” Grossman said in a statement. “First of all, we are not seeking $100 million or anything close to it [but] when you sue, you obviously sue for what you are owed.”
Reuters financial blogger Felix Salmon said that he sympathizes with the demonstrators, but defended vulture funds, which he sees as a necessary evil.
“Vulture funds are a bit like vultures, actually,” Salmon said. “They do things that can be sort of smelly and ugly, but they do perform an incredibly important role in the ecosystem. They have a very, very hard time trying to collect on judgments.”
Still, the 99 percent say the suit is a heartless move toward a country beset with a cholera epidemic, civil war and corruption.
Ryan Green, a member of the Existence is Resistance activist group, said that the such demonstrations could push U.S. legislators to ban “vulture funds” from profiting from the debt of developing nations.
“If we could just focus on it, we could probably change it,” he said.
The next demonstration will take place on Sunday, Jan. 1 at 5 pm at Washington and DeKalb avenues. For info, visit tinyurl.com/occupypetergrossman.
Reach Kate Briquelet at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling her at (718) 260-2511.