Argentina will negotiate with holdout investors from 2001 default, attorney tells court

An attorney for the Argentine government told a federal judge in Manhattan Wednesday that the South American nation will negotiate for the first time with investors who refused to take part in the country’s past debt restructuring.

“The authorities will be in New York next week and want to negotiate with the holdouts,” the lawyer, Carmine Boccuzzi, said at a hearing before District Judge Thomas P. Griesa.

The courtroom statements suggested the possibility of a negotiated settlement of a dispute that has raged since Argentina defaulted on its debt payments in 2001. Griesa previously had ordered Argentina to pay the holdout bondholders $1.3 billion at the same time it pays other bondholders who had agreed to previous government restructuring deals.

Argentina appealed Griesa’s previous order, but the appeals were rebuffed earlier this week by the U.S. Supreme Court.

After the court ruled Monday, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner delivered a defiant speech in Buenos Aires.

She called the court orders “extortion,” a statement that Griesa criticized Wednesday. Argentina’s economics minister, Axel Kicillof, then described steps the country was taking to pay the majority of bondholders without paying the holdouts.

A lawyer representing the holdouts asked Griesa for an order to prevent Kicillof’s plan from going forward.

“We have been prepared to negotiate with Argentina since this matter began,” said Robert Cohen, who represents NML Capital and other holdout bondholders. NML is a division of Elliot Management, which is controlled by billionaire investor Paul Singer. Griesa said he would review the request.

The Supreme Court handed the holdouts a victory by declining to consider Argentina’s appeal of the lower court order that the country pay the holdouts.

Argentina’s stock market plummeted after the court action was announced on fears of another national default, which Argentine officials had said might occur if they had to pay the debts in full. The holdout investors insisted that Argentina could afford to pay its obligations and was failing to comply with legal obligations, including court orders.

In her televised speech, Fernández said the Supreme Court damaged the interests of Argentina and the 92 percent of creditors who had agreed with past debt-restructuring proposals. She said she was willing to negotiate but added, according to an Associated Press report, “What I cannot do as president is submit the country to such extortion.” The Supreme Court action has set off a new round in an ongoing debate about the effect of hedge funds and other investors who push poorer countries to repay their debts.

Tom Hamburger covers the intersection of money and politics for The Washington Post.
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