MS Risk Blog

Venezuela Ruled to be in ‘Selective Default’ over Failed Debt Payments

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On November 13th, Venezuela was ruled to be in ‘selective default’ by two major ratings agencies after the countries failure to carry out debt payments on sovereign bonds as well as PDVSA bonds that were due in October. Venezuela is already suffering with a serious humanitarian crisis, struggling to provide citizens with adequate food and medicine, and this default holds the capability to exacerbate this humanitarian crisis even further. If Venezuelan bond holders were to demand full and immediate repayment they are legally entitled to seize the countries assets. In the case of Venezuela these assets would be its oil barrels from the state owned oil company PDVSA. Oil exportation is Venezuela’s main source of income outside its borders, and the seizure of these assets would have huge economic repercussions. Given 93% of the countries exportations are crude oil, which in turn makes up 50% of the country’s GDP, the seizure of oil assets by Venezuelan bond holders would lead to further shortages of food and medicine for citizens in an already dire situation by taking away their primary source of income. The regime has, up until now, managed to honor its interest payments to foreign investors by sacrificing the importation of basic goods, food and medicines at the cost of its citizens.

On the 15th November, the Venezuelan government signed a 10-year restructuring deal with Russia for just over $3 Billion, allowing minimal payments to be made to Russia over the next 6 years. Experts expect this deal to help the struggling nation in the short-term by reliving them of some payments, in the hopes this will free up some money to help develop its struggling economy. It is reported that this deal with Russia does not include any PDVSA debt as no corporate debt was covered in the deal.

A further blow has since hit the struggling nation as the ISDA committee has as of the 16th of November ruled that the PDVSA has also defaulted on its debt, after the committee stated that a “failure to pay Credit Event” had occurred. This decision will result in the triggering of payments to investors through default insurance, but how this will be settled is to be decided in a meeting on Monday 20th.

Venezuelan officials blame their financial crisis on financial sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. These sanctions were put in place due to accusations of human rights abuses by President Maduro, and the declaration by the US that the Venezuelan leader was a Dictator. These sanctions prevent US banks from trading and/or investing in any recently issued Venezuelan debt, with Maduro accusing the US of carrying out an ‘economic war’ against them with the imposition of these sanctions. These financial sanctions are particularly problematic as the buying of new Venezuelan bonds is a requirement for any debt resolution. This leaves Venezuela in a catch-22 situation. It must refinance its debt in the form of new bonds, and with 70% of current bond holders being from North America the inability to sell more bonds to the US makes the debt resolution process that much harder.

Despite Venezuela laying the brunt of the blame on the US, experts argue the blame should instead be put on the Venezuelan socialist regime that has been in power since 1999. In a desperate attempt to make goods more affordable to citizens the freezing of prices on goods in the country was imposed, alongside the fixing of the exchange rate for the Bolivar (Venezuela’s currency). This freezing of prices lead to large numbers of farmers going out of business which has had a huge part to play regarding the food shortages. Alongside this mismanagement by the government, the price of oil during this time was continuing to drop, leaving the oil rich and cash-poor country in economic and humanitarian crisis. With Venezuela boasting the largest global oil reserves, the country should, in theory, be a wealthy and prosperous nation. Instead its citizens are living through poverty after its Governments decision to prioritise its creditors over its own people, with the economic future of Venezuela remaining unclear.

Coup in Zimbabwe

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Early on Wednesday, reports emerged that Zimbabwe’s military seized power, stating that it was targeting “criminals” around President Robert Mugabe – the only ruler the country has known in its 37 years of independence. The reports came after witnesses disclosed seeing tanks heading to the capital, Harare, on Tuesday 14 November.

On Wednesday, soldiers seized the state broadcaster, ZBC, and ordered staff to leave after the ruling ZANU-PF party accused the head of the military of treason, prompting speculation of a coup. Shortly afterwards, three explosions rocked the centre of the capital city. The incidents came just 24 hours after military chief General Constantion Chiwenga threatened to intervene to end a purge of his allies in ZANU-PF, with witnesses reporting seeing armoured personnel carriers on main roads around the capital, Harare. Armoured vehicles blocked roads to the main government offices, parliament and the courts in central Harare, while taxis ferried commuters to work nearby. The atmosphere in the capital city however remained calm. According to a government source, Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo, a leading member of the ruling ZANU-PF party’s ‘G40’ faction, which is led by the president’s wife Grace Mugabe, had been detained by the military. The military has also disclosed that President Mugabe and his family were safe. A statement released by the South African presidency disclosed that President Mugabe himself spoke by telephone to the president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, and told him he was confined to his home but was fine.  President Zuma, speaking on the behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), further expressed hope that there would be no constitutional changes of government in Zimbabwe as that would be contrary to both SADC and African Union (AU) positions. He urged Zimbabwe’s government and the military “to resolve the political impasse amicably.”

Both the United States and Britain have advised their citizens currently in Harare to remain indoors because of “political uncertainty.”

The coup comes after President Mugabe plunged Zimbabwe into a new political crisis earlier this month by dismissing his vice president and presumed successor Emmerson Mnangagwa. The generals that launched the coup believed that the move was aimed at clearing a path for Grace Mugabe to take over and announced on Monday 13 November that they were prepared to “step in” if purges of their allies did not end. On Television, Major General SB Moyo, Chief of Staff Logistics, has since stated “we are only targeting criminals around him (President Mugabe) who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice,” adding “as soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy.”


It currently remains unclear whether the apparent military coup will bring a formal end to President Mugabe’s rule, with the main goal of the generals appearing to be preventing the president’s 52-year-old wife Grace from succeeding him. What is clear is that whether he remains in office or not, the coup attempt is likely to end the total dominance of the country by President Mugabe.

While being once one of the continent’s most prosperous countries, Zimbabwe has been reduced to poverty by an economic crisis that many of the president’s opponents have long blamed on him. Furthermore, even many of President Mugabe’s loyal supporters over the decades had come to oppose the rise of his wife, who courted the powerful youth wing of the ruling party while alienating the military, which was led by President Mugabe’s former guerrilla comrades from the 1970s independence struggle.

Key figures in Zimbabwe

Below is a list of key figures in First Lady Grace Mugabe’s ‘G40’ political faction – the target of an overnight coup by the military. While the whereabouts of all of them are currently unknown, sources in Harare have reported that some are in detention.

  • Grace Mugabe – President Robert Mugabe’s 52-year-old wife rose from political obscurity to the top ranks of the ruling ZANU-PF party and, after a purge earlier this month of Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, became the front-runner to succeed her husband.
  • Jonathan Moyo – A propagandist and former information ministry, Moyo was G40’s brains and mouthpiece, never shying away from an acerbic comment or Tweet about his rivals. Since the coup however, his Twitter feed has been uncharacteristically silent.
  • Saviour Kasukuwere – A former ZANU-PF Youth Minister who ran President Mugabe’s attempts to “indigenise” the economy, essentially forcing foreign investors to surrender large stakes in their businesses to locals.
  • Ignatius Chombo – A former University lecturer and President Mugabe’s close fiend, Chombo was promoted last month in a cabinet reshuffle from the interior ministry to the finance portfolio, just as a severe domestic currency shortage tipped over into full-blown financial collapse.
  • Agustine Chihuri – As Commissioner General of the police, Chihuri was accused by rights groups of presiding over vicious crackdowns on dissent and popular protest in the last eighteen months.
  • Kudzai Chipanga – The 35-year-old youth leader ingratiated himself to President Mugabe and Grace and organized nationwide youth rallies that Grace Mugabe used to attack Mnangagwa and his allies.

Update on the situation in Catalonia

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Since the independence forces obtained an absolute majority in seats in September 2015, but not in votes, in the Parliament of Catalonia, they cling to a unilateral agenda to proclaim independence from Spain, which was answered by the institutions of the State and has led to the current situation.

The culmination of the independence project began last September when the Catalan Parliament approved, against the warnings of the Constitutional Court, which declared an independence referendum unconstitutional, as well as any law that would serve to hold it, the Referendum Law, which authorized the Government of Catalonia to convene a referendum of independence, and the Law of Legal Transience, which would replace the Spanish legality in case the “yes” to independence won.

After the beginning of the coup d’état orchestrated by the Generalitat, which established the 1st October as the date for the referendum, the Superior Court of Justice of Catalonia pose to prevent the consummation of the vote, for which it ordered the Civil Guard (GC), the National Police Force (CNP) and the Catalan autonomous police (the Mossos), requisition any material related to the vote, as well as propaganda material on the referendum and prevent political acts. Then begins a scuffle between the Government of Spain and the Generalitat in which websites are blocked, many voting materials are requisitioned, and at the same time the Generalitat disregards any order extended from the Government or from the Justice, the Government of Spain having to take full control of the Autonomous Community’s finances to avoid the use of public money to finance the referendum, and having to displace more than 10,000 agents of the GC and CNP from other regions of Spain to Catalonia, due to the disobedience and inactivity of the Mossos to avoid it.

The events of 1st October could be summarized as a chaotic day in which the Generalitat approved the universal census that allowed any citizen to vote anywhere there was a ballot box, which led to embarrassing situations such as the same person voting up to four times, minors exercising the vote, or people from other regions of Spain being able to vote if they were in Catalonia. Given the total ineffectiveness of the Mossos, who disobeyed the Justice order to stop holding the referendum, the GC and the CNP had to take over their functions and prevent, sometimes using force because of the resistance of the protesters, the voting in certain electoral points. The Generalitat made use of this violence as propaganda, accusing the Government of Spain of violating the rights of citizens and exaggerating the number of wounded during police charges. Without having finished the vote count, the Catalan authorities announced that 2,286,217 people had voted, of which 90 percent had voted in favour of independence, which legitimized the Generalitat to implement the Law of Legal Transience and proclaim independence in 48 hours. The electoral day was characterised by a total lack of democratic rigour, with people voting several times, ballot boxes arriving at polling stations filled with ballots, and with a result that reached up to 100.88 percent of votes.

The president of the Generalitat, Carles Puigdemont, declared a few days later before the Catalan Parliament that he assumed “the mandate that the people of Catalonia become an independent State in the form of a republic” for eight seconds after proposing “that Parliament suspend the effects of the declaration of independence so that in the next weeks we can start a dialogue ». A dialogue that became a demand to the Government of Spain to mutually agree on the terms of independence or a new agreed referendum, something that led the Central Government to activate Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution to dismiss the Catalan Government, dissolve the rebel regional Parliament, and call for regional elections on 21st December to restore the rule of law in Catalonia. When the pro-independence leaders saw no way out, one day before article 155 was applied, they voted the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (DUI).

One day after the DUI, the former president of the Generalitat, who does not accept his dismissal by the Spanish authorities, moved with five ex-ministers of his Government to Brussels, with the intention of internationalizing the conflict. Members of the former Catalan government that remained in Spain were sent to prison in a preventive manner due to the risk of absconding and they will be accused of rebellion, insurrection and economic malfeasance. Similar charges will be filed against the president of the Catalan Parliament, Carme Forcadell, and other members of the Bureau that allowed the vote of the DUI, which remain on probation. Given the refusal of the former president of the Generalitat to return to Spain to testify for the same crimes, the Spanish justice has issued an international arrest warrant against the former president and ex-ministers who seek refuge in Brussels, where they intend to slow down their extradition as long as possible.

Meanwhile, nearly 2,000 companies have left Catalonia due to the political instability, it is rumoured that Barcelona has ceased to be the preferred city to relocate the headquarters of the European Medicines Agency, which moves from London because of Brexit, the Mobile World Congress has threatened to change Barcelona as its headquarters by 2019 if Catalonia does not recover stability, and it is estimated that the Catalan crisis will cost the Spanish economy between 2,000 and 12,000 million euros.

Spain has received the support of the entire international community and the media, while the independence movement has failed in its attempt to internationalize the conflict and gather support. But the reasons that years ago led to a rise in the nationalist sentiment are still present in Catalan society, and it is the duty of both parts, the Central Government and the coming Generalitat, to repair the damage done and meet Catalan needs within the rule of law, respecting the Constitution and the unity of Spain.

Cyber-Security Concerns for the Shipping Industry

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For several years, security experts have warned that outdated technological systems could lead to increased risks to shipping vessels. In recent months, the warnings have grown louder. Most computer based shipping technologies, developed in the 1990s, were initially designed as isolated systems. Over time, the industry has moved increasingly online. The change has opened the industry to more threats from outside actors. As technology and users become more sophisticated, the shipping industry has struggled to keep up to speed with the latest changes, leaving older systems vulnerable to targeting.

Two key risks are the hacking or spoofing of marine traffic. Hacking refers to the unauthorized access to data in a system. A hacker could gain entry into the internal systems of a company and access private information, such as cargo documents, or the personal details of crew members aboard a vessel. A hacker could also install malware into the system, allowing them access to sensitive material such as e-mail transmissions. In the past year, hackers have changed the banking information on email invoices going to shipping companies, redirecting millions of dollars before the issue was identified. In June, the NotPetya ransomware-attack targeted several large businesses, including shipping giant Maersk. The virus wormed through the company’s global network, forcing a stoppage at 76 port terminals globally, and costing the company nearly $300 million.

Spoofing, on the other hand, is a process of falsifying the origin or location of something in order to mislead a user. In terms of the shipping industry, it can be used to alter the coordinates of a vessel, or make the vessel simply disappear from tracking systems. Spoofing attempts are often spotted quickly, however sophisticated actors continue to construct ways to outsmart the systems, causing spoofing to remain a point of concern.

Aboard a vessel, security issues can be amplified. For example, the AIS system uses satellites and marine radar to pinpoint the location of a vessel. This information, often publicly available, can be used to track the location of vessels around the globe, and can be used by pirates as a sort of “shopping list”. Using spoofing, a malevolent actor can theoretically alter the location of a vessel, causing a ship to redirect its course into unknown waters. With hacking, they can access a cargo list, obtain the information about the content of specific crates, and if they successfully board a vessel, they target only the crates with goods they find valuable.

While there are numerous entry points for a hacker to target, aboard a vessel, perhaps the weakest point is maritime satellite communication (satcom) system. Satcom boxes are nearly always connected to the internet, and often do not have updated technology. They are often poorly secured, and can easily allow access to “protected” data and entry into a company’s larger systems.

Governments and corporations have long struggled to keep up with the changes in technology. Because of the rapid rate of sophistication, legacy systems often do not have the features or capacity to protect shipping companies from such attacks. Awareness is growing as cyber-security becomes a more prominent global concern. Experts have called for changes in the industry, including secure firmware, password complexity, penetration testing, and other preventative measures to ensure that vessels, cargo, and crew remain safe.

The International Chamber of Shipping has recently launched guidelines designed to help ship owners protect themselves from hackers. More information can be found here:

Kenya Sets New Presidential Election Date

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Last month, Kenya’s election board announced that the country’s presidential re-run has been rescheduled for 26 October, after initially stating that it would be held on 17 October.

While the election board had initially disclosed that the re-run would take place on 17 October, a French firm whose technology is being used for the polls announced earlier this month that it would not be ready in time for that date.

The announcement came a day after a detailed Supreme Court judgement laid out the reasons why the court had nullified last month’s election.