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18 April 2024

For sale: one nice little bankrupt country

By Paul Murphy

The global credit crisis is taking increasingly bizarre turns – not least in the countries of the former Soviet Union. There were reports over the weekend that more than 400 Lativans have signed a letter addressed to Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich asking him to buy their country.

The letter, seemingly posted by an unknown person on a local Latvian website, reads:

"Dear Roman Abramovich. As you may already know our homeland Latvia went bankrupt and is currently holding talks with the International Monetary Fund on the sale of our country for €7.5 billion [$10.7bn]. I would like you to consider the possibility of purchasing Latvia: the population are hard working and pleasant, environmentally clean area and plenty of space to dock your yacht."

Humour is an excellent antidote to hardship, of course – and Latvians are certainly having a bad crunch.

The country has experienced the worst economic decline in the European Union, with gross domestic product falling by 4.6 per cent during the third quarter against the same period a year earlier.

Could it actually happen? Setting aside the financial standing of Mr Abramovich, there are obvious hurdles such as establishing who would have the right to actually sell a country and deciding how the proceeds might be divided up. And there would be the little matter of how the new "owner" of Latvia might actually impose ownership once he or she had handed over the money.

But look at it another way. People who have enough money to buy a country – typically highly-talented, driven, self-made entrepreneurs – are expected to avoid the sort of reckless, unsustainable economic policies that got Latvia into such a state in the first place.

Now, how much do you think the UK might fetch?