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U.K. court ruling a blow to Argentine plan
by Staff Writers
Buenos Aires (UPI) Jul 7, 2011

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A British Supreme Court ruling that rejected state immunity for Argentina in creditor claims dating to its $96 billion sovereign debt default in 2001 exposed Buenos Aires to new financial risks as the government of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner fought for an early re-entry into global capital markets.

The Supreme Court decision reversed a 2010 lower court ruling and opens the way for NML Capital, an affiliate of New York hedge fund Elliott Associates LP, to pursue $284 million U.S. court judgment and try and seize Argentine assets in Britain.

NML Capital Ltd. didn't immediately say how it would follow up its victory with pursuit of the distressed sovereign debt.

Analysts said the case set a precedent that could encourage other sovereign debt creditors, not just those affecting Argentina, to chase sovereign defaults through the courts.

Argentina and Britain had an eventful week after a $150 million investment in oil exploration offshore from Argentine coast failed to yield hydrocarbons while, at the same time, British-ruled Falkland Islands announced a new fundraising round to develop oil found in a deep-water South Atlantic basin.

Argentine-British ties are under strain after Argentina protested British-backed oil prospecting in the Falklands. Argentina and Britain fought a 74-day war over the islands in 1982, with the loss of about 1,000 lives.

Fernandez aides had no immediate reaction to the U.K. Supreme Court ruling, which is being read in Buenos Aires as part of the whole picture of fraught diplomacy between the two countries over the Falklands.

Arguments that the British government and judiciary are separate entities are brushed aside by Argentine critics who see London's long reach everywhere.

Until the Supreme Court ruling, creditors in the $95 billion Argentine default had struggled with Argentine offers, seen as derisory, and failed to secure a compromise.

Four years after the default, the Argentine government offered bondholders 30 cents on the dollar for their debt, a deal rejected by creditors of about $20 billion of the bonds, including NML Capital Ltd.

Subsequent recovery bids by the creditors were inconclusive or vague.

The British Supreme Court ruled that Argentina's state immunity couldn't prevent an offshore trader in distressed sovereign debt from using U.K. courts to enforce claims over the country's default. The judgment raised the possibility of other debtors of distressed bonds being encouraged to enforce recovery orders on British soil.

London's city financial district is home to sovereign debt bonds issued by several European and Middle Eastern states.

NML officials said they welcomed the rejection of Argentina's "desperate legal strategies" aimed at avoiding repayment on defaulted bonds.

NML bought the disputed bonds at half their face value of $172 million but has had difficulty persuading U.S. judges that Argentina owes NML the full value of the bonds plus unpaid interest.

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