A look at who some of the key players are

Michael Sheehan The director of the vulture fund Donegal International likes to be known as Goldfinger, after the James Bond villain, and has a penchant for expensive Cadillacs.

Donegal owns a $15-m (£9.5-m) Zambian debt, dating back to 1979, which was originally purchased from Romania in 1999 for $3m. Once in possession of the debt, Donegal began demands from Zambia, which handed over $2.5-m before the firm sued them in the U.K. for defaulting. The high court awarded Donegal $15.5-m in 2007. An experienced lawyer, Sheehan has worked at law firms in Washington DC and Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Incongruously, he spent most of the 1990s as a counsel to a debt relief NGO before setting up DAI, a firm that advises vulture funds. DAI was instrumental in brokering the deal between FG Management in the acquisition of Congolese debt from Bosnia.

Peter Grossman A former Morgan Stanley consultant, Grossman is the co-founder of the vulture fund FG Hemisphere, now FG Capital Management. He has successfully sued the DRC for $100-m after acquiring debts owed to Bosnian state company EnergoInvest for $2.6-m. The sale was signed off by the former Bosnian Prime Minister, Nedzad Brankovic, who has been investigated on corruption charges. FG Management has chased its claim on the DRC's debt around the world's courtrooms, from Hong Kong to the U.S. Last November in Jersey FG's claim on $108.3-m of Congolese money was successful.

Paul Singer Singer is a major donor to the U.S. Republican party and the founder of Elliott Management, which controls about $17-bn from its Manhattan offices, including a 17 per cent stake in U.K. company National Express. Elliott's principle investment strategy is buying distressed debt cheaply and selling it at a profit or suing for full payment. In 1995 it bought defaulted Peruvian bank debt for $20-m and successfully sued for $58-m.

A subsidiary of Elliott, Kensington International, bought a $30-m debt owed by the DRC at a cut-down price, and was awarded more than $100-m in interest in 2002 and 2003.

Singer has so far managed to seize $39-m of the country's oil sales. Another firm affiliated to Elliott, NML Capital, is currently trying to recoup at least $182-m bought from Argentina before it defaulted in 2002.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

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