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Investment

A man of contradictions

Paul Singer has been called many things, from "vulture capitalist" to generous philanthropist and progressive father. The hedge fund manager's latest power play could push Argentina over the brink of bankruptcy.

Forbes Magazine has estimated Singer's fortune at around $1.5 billion (1.12 billion euros), money that he is not hesitant to donate to a good cause.

With his charity, the "Paul E. Singer Family Foundation," he has funneled money to the New York Police Department, helped children and supported schools.

He is also a signatory to Bill Gates' "Giving Pledge," which urges the super rich to forfeit a majority of their assets to those in need.

"I am happy and grateful to participate in such an honorable endeavor," Singer said upon admission into the elite circle of patrons.

A man of contradictions

Singer votes Republican. During the 2012 election in the US, he vigorously opposed Barack Obama. But he does have a liberal vein. For years, he has actively supported gay marriage.

What may seem uncharacteristic of an otherwise right-leaning businessman is not that unfounded - one of Singer's sons is gay.

For some, Singer is a hero. For others, he is an unscrupulous speculator, fighting to loosen the rules that keep the financial industry in check. He complains about the Fed's policy of keeping interest rates low and is a vehement proponent of the free market.

"What is happening to Argentina is self-inflicted," Singer said at this year's World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "Terrible government policy is to blame."

"If our strife awakens the government to change its economic policies, all the better," he added.

Buenos Aires, on the other hand, calls him a vulture, a blackmailer who puts money before the fates of 43 million Argentines.

In Singer's business, the learning curve is steep but the 69-year-old never really struggled. He grew up in a prosperous family - his father was a pharmacist, his mother a homemaker.

After studying psychology he completed his doctorate in law at the Harvard University. In 1977, he founded his investment firm with $1.3 million in capital that he borrowed from friends and family, according to Fortune magazine.

State bankruptcies as a business model

Today his firm, "Elliot Management Cooperation," manages assets exceeding 23 billion euros in various funds.

From the beginning, Singer's work concentrated on snatching up debt certificates of bankrupt companies and countries. While other investors were frantically trying to get rid of the securities they held for a fraction of the original price, Singer went on a buying spree.

His modus operandi often saw him resort to the courts to enforce his claims, as he successfully did in the cases of junk bonds from Congo and Peru.

For 10 years, Singer has been jockeying for his money from Argentina. For him, it's a Hail Mary pass. He could have quadrupled his money in 2001 during debt restructuring negotiations, but he wanted more.

With an initial investment of around $49 million he is looking to get back $800 million plus interest - a 1,600 percent return.

To get his point across, he even had a training ship of the Argentine Navy seized - a deposit of sorts for his hedge fund.

That his actions may push Argentina over the edge of bankruptcy seems to be a secondary concern to Singer. He can afford to wait.