Thursday, November 26, 2009

Liberia sued by 'vulture funds'.

Two Caribbean-registered investment funds have launched a legal case in London against Liberia over a debt that dates back to 1978.

The firms, described as "vulture funds" by critics, are suing for more than $20m (£12m) - some 5% of the Liberian government's total budget this year.

Liberia says it has no money to pay the debt back and has accused the firms of profiting from poverty.

The country is recovering from a 14-year civil war which ended in 2003.

The details of the case are still unclear, but it is thought that Liberia borrowed $6.5m from the US-based Chemical Bank in 1978 and that debt may have been resold a number of times.

The two funds are requesting that London's High Court grant a summary judgement in the case - making Liberia liable for the debt without the need for a full hearing.

'Tooth and nail' fight

In 2002 a New York court ruled that Liberia owed $18m - the current case is an attempt to collect that sum plus interest.

At the time of the New York case Liberia was wracked by civil war and did not offer a defence.
Liberia map

Liberian Finance Minister Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan told the BBC's Network Africa programme the country could not afford to repay the debt.

"We're asking everybody, we are asking even the court not to grant them summary judgement. Let them go through the normal procedure," he said.

"Our lawyers are going to work tooth and nail to battle this."

He said he hoped that the international community would take action to make sure that "these people that survive on poverty do not thrive".

UK activists are lobbying the government to change the law so such cases cannot be heard in UK courts.

Nick Dearden, of Jubilee Debt Campaign, said: "This case is absolute proof that you can't tackle vultures by voluntary means.

"Currently these companies don't have to tell us anything about themselves because they're registered in tax havens - they can just turn up in London and sue one of the poorest countries in the world."

Very little is known about the funds - Hamsah Investments and Wall Capital.

Hamsah was awarded more than $11m in a similar action against another poor country, Nicaragua.

The BBC's economics correspondent Andrew Walker says vulture funds are controversial - especially when they target nations already receiving debt relief on what they owe to rich countries.

Sometimes that debt relief is what frees the resources to pay creditors who take legal action, our correspondent says.

The solicitor representing Hamsah has not yet responded to requests for comments on the case.

Dubai under scrutiny

Dubai's financial health has come under scrutiny after a major, government-owned investment company asked for a six-month delay on repaying its debts.

Dubai World, which has total debts of $59bn (£35bn), is asking creditors if it can postpone its forthcoming payments until May next year.

Dubai World has also appointed global accountancy group Deloitte to help with its financial restructuring.

The company has been hit hard by the global credit crunch and recession.

It was due to repay $3.5bn of its debts next month.

The request for a delay in repayments led to major credit ratings agencies downgrading a number of state-backed companies.

Following six years of rapid growth, the Dubai economy has slumped since the second half of 2008.

This has led to Dubai property prices falling sharply.

The Dubai government said in a statement that the request to delay debt repayments also applied to property developer Nakheel, a Dubai World subsidiary.

"It's shocking because for the past few months the news coming out has given investors comfort that Dubai would most probably be able to meet its debt obligations," said analyst Shakeel Sarwar, of SICO Investment Bank.

Dubai is one of the seven self-governing emirates or states that make up the United Arab Emirates.

Analysts say the Dubai government has paid the price for a flamboyant economic model centred on foreign capital and giant construction projects.

Questions are now being raised about Dubai's ability to repay its debts, said the BBC's Middle East correspondent Jeremy Howell.

Some have speculated it is likely to turn to the more economically conservative Abu Dhabi emirate to bail it out.

Global credit rating agency Standard & Poor's, which rules on a company's or government's ability to repay its debts, said the announcement "may be considered a [debt] default".

Our correspondent said: "Standard & Poor's and Moodys immediately downgraded all six state-backed corporations in Dubai, downgrading some to junk status."

Junk is the term commonly used to describe bonds that are rated below investment grade by ratings agencies.

The Dubai World announcement was made on the eve of the Eid al-Adha Muslim festival, which will see many government agencies and companies close in Dubai until 6 December.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Masjid kedua tertua dan ketiga tersuci di dunia adalah Masjidil Aqsa (Masjid Al-Aqsa). Masjid itu dibangunkan di atas lokasi Kenisah Sulaiman atau Haykal Sulaiman dan termasuk di antara tiga masjid yang perlu dikunjungi oleh kaum Muslim sesuai dengan anjuran Nabi Muhammad s.a.w. Keutamaan Masjidil Aqsa ini didasarkan daripada sabda Nabi s.a.w yang bermaksud: “Janganlah kamu merasa berat untuk mengadakan perjalanan ke tiga masjid: Masjidil Haram, Masjidku ( Masjid Nabawi ) dan Masjidil Aqsa. Solat di Masjidil Haram lebih utama dari 100,000 kali di tempat lain kecuali di Masjidil Aqsa.” ( Riwayat ad-Darimi, an- Nasa’i, dan Ahmad)

Masjidil Aqsa disebut di dalam al-Quran yang berkaitan dengan peristiwa Israk Mikraj (Q.17:1). Nabi s.a.w. melakukan Israk (perjalanan malam hari) dari Masjidil Haram ke Masjidil Aqsa sebelum bermikraj ke Sidratulmuntaha, sebagaimana dalam firman-Nya: “Maha Suci Allah, yang telah memperjalankan hamba-Nya pada suatu malam dari Masjidil Haram ke Masjidil Aqsa yang telah Kami berkati sekelilingnya agar Kami perlihatkan kepadanya sebahagian daripada tanda-tanda (kebesaran) Kami…” (Q.17:1).

Kalangan ulama berbeza pendapat mengenai istilah “aqsa”. Sebahagian berpendapat bahawa masjid ini disebut Aqsa (Jauh) kerana memang jauh dari Masjidil Haram di Mekah. Menurut pendapat lain, masjid ini disebut Aqsa kerana ia merupakan tempat yang bebas daripada segala jenis kotoran, tempat turunnya malaikat serta wahyu, dan kiblat para nabi sebelum Nabi Muhammad s.a.w. Pendapat lain lagi mengatakan bahawa Masjidil Aqsa bukan di Baitulmaqdis tetapi di Sidratulmuntaha. Alasan ini didasarkan pada fakta bahawa Haykal Sulaiman sudah dihancurkan pada tahun 70 SM oleh Kaisar Titus dari Rom.

Masjidil Aqsa berada dalam sebuah kompleks di kota Baitulmaqdis (rumah, tempat suci atau yang disucikan). Baitulmaqdis adalah sebutan bagi Jerusalem yang juga disebut al-Quds. Masjidil Aqsa didirikan di atas tanah bekas Haykal Sulaiman. Di dalam kompleks itu, Masjidil Aqsa terletak di selatan Kubah as-Sakhrah yang juga dikenali dengan nama Masjid Umar atau The Dome of the Rock. Masjid itu didirikan seperti di atas sakhrah (batu hitam yang menjadi landasan mikraj Nabi s.a.w) oleh Abdul Malik bin Marwan pada tahun 72 H/691 M.

Nabi Sulaiman a.s membangun tempat ibadah Yahudi (kenisah) di Jerusalem yang disebut Haykal Sulaiman. Bangunan yang terletak di Haram asy-Syarif itu lalu dihancurkan oleh Kaisar Titus pada tahun 70 SM. Khalifah Umar membina sebuah masjid (Masjidil Aqsa) di bekas lokasi Haykal Sulaiman itu. Kubah masjid itu berwarna perak. Masjidil Aqsa telah diperbaiki beberapa kali, namun bentuknya tetap tidak berubah.

Ketika menerima penyerahan Jerusalem (dahulu bernama Aelia) daripada penguasa Nasrani, Umar al-Khattab mendapati tompokan sampah di atas sakhrah. Beliau dan kaum Muslim membersihkan tempat itu. Lalu beliau berkata kepada Ka’b bin Ahbar (seorang Yahudi yang memeluk Islam), ”Menurut pendapat kamumu, di mana saya dapat mendirikan sembahyang untuk kaum Muslim?” Dia (Ka’b) menjawab, ”Dirikanlah di belakang(sebelah utara) sakhrah.” Umar pun membalas, ”Hai kau anak perempuan Yahudi, kau masih terpengaruh dengan kefahaman Yahudi! Sebaliknya, saya akan mendirikan masjid tempat di pusat lokasi Haykal Sulaiman kerana kami menguasai seluruh pusat kenisah itu.” Lalu, sebuah Masjid dibina di sebelah selatan sakhrah seperti yang dapat disaksikan sekarang ini. Masjid itulah yang dinamakan Masjidil Aqsa.