Argentina defiant over US judge’s debt ruling

Axel Kicillof: Still waiting for answer to request for more time. Picture: APAxel Kicillof: Still waiting for answer to request for more time. Picture: AP
Axel Kicillof: Still waiting for answer to request for more time. Picture: AP
Argentina is willing to negotiate to avoid a catastrophic default, the country’s economy minister has said.

But Axel Kicillof said Argentina was waiting for a United States judge to approve its request for more time to pay $1.5 billion (£883 million) in bad debts.

Five days before the deadline, Mr Kicillof remained defiant in a fiery speech to the United Nations ambassadors from the Group of 77 (G77) developing nations, saying complying with the ruling would send his country’s economy into a tailspin.

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He headed back to Argentina yesterday soon after the address without meeting with any of the bondholders who filed the lawsuit or the Manhattan judge who issued the verdict, which the US Supreme Court allowed to stand last week.

Court-appointed mediator Daniel Pollack said he had met lawyers for the two sides in New York on Tuesday but “no resolution has been reached” after several hours.

He said the parties “agreed to keep the substance of our discussions confidential in order to facilitate the possibility of a future resolution”.

Mr Kicillof said he did not participate in the meeting with Mr Pollack, saying the main purpose of his visit was to address the G77 and highlight the potential global consequences of the ruling.

He said Argentina would make no decisions until US district judge Thomas Griesa had ruled on the request for a delay.

“Otherwise, it is not possible in such a brief time, obviously, to take into account all of the risk factors involved in any decision Argentina might make,” Mr Kicillof told a news conference after his speech.

“We have only received silence so far from Judge Griesa.”

The plaintiffs in the New York litigation represent about 1 per cent of Argentina’s $100bn of debt that went into default in 2001. About 92 per cent of creditors joined 2005 and 2010 debt swaps, agreeing to accept less money. Another 7 per cent of those who did not join the swaps did not sue Argentina and are not part of the US court case.

If Argentina does not pay the plaintiffs, Mr Griesa’s ruling bars the use of the US financial system to pay other bondholders.

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Argentina’s next instalment to the majority of its creditors is $907m, and it is due to be paid on Monday, though the government has a 30-day grace period thereafter to avoid default.

Mr Kicillof said complying with the ruling would swiftly lead to lawsuits from other bondholders who were not part of the debt swap, saddling Argentina with another $15bn in debt payments.

And eventually, he said, creditors who did join the swap could also sue to demand at least $120bn in payments on the same terms.

Argentine foreign minister Hector Timerman said the G77 had thrown its support behind Argentina, resolving to send a protest letter to Mr Griesa over his order that the South American country has to make a payment to a group of hedge funds that, with interest, will have grown to $1.65bn by the deadline.

A UN trade agency has also criticised the judge’s ruling on Argentina’s debt.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development, a body responsible for dealing with international trade and development issues, said the rulings “could have profound consequences for the international financial system” and “will make future debt restructuring even more difficult” across the world.

The plaintiffs have asked Mr Griesa to deny Argentina’s request for more time to negotiate over the debt.

Hold-out bondholders from US hedge funds that sued in Manhattan federal court were led by New York billionaire Paul Singer’s NML Capital.

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