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Argentina defends plan to pay creditors outside US

Published:Friday | August 22, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Argentina will make its next round of scheduled debt payments, the economy minister said on Wednesday as he defended a new plan to pay creditors locally and avoid the jurisdiction of a United States court that forced the country into default last month.

Under legislation that still must be submitted to Congress, Argentina will no longer use the Bank of New York as a trustee for about US$30 billion in bonds and will service debt through its own central bank, Economy Minister Axel Kicillof said. Congress is expected to pass the bill.

The change will allow the country to make US$200 million in interest payments scheduled for September 30 to bondholders who voluntarily accept the change, Kicillof said a day after President Cristina Fernández announced the new plan.

"It's a way for us to continue meeting our commitments," he said.

The economy minister sought to minimise the scope of the plan, saying it amounted to "a change of venue, not jurisdiction," but it could allow the country to emerge from default while complicating a bitter legal dispute with US investors.

The proposal is intended as a way around a US court order that blocked Argentina from making US$539 million in interest payments on July 30, triggering the country's second default in 13 years.

US District Judge Thomas Griesa, whose order prevented Bank of New York from distributing Argentina's interest payments until the country settles a decade-long battle with other creditors, has warned that changing the jurisdiction of payments would have "serious legal consequences".

Government officials, who have bristled at what they see as an attack on its sovereignty by the US courts, say Argentina isn't really in default since it has attempted to make the interest payments but was barred from doing so. Kicillof noted the country has reserves of US$29 billion on hand.

"There is no default. We are going to keep paying," he said.

The new local payments would apply to bondholders who accepted lower-value bonds following the country's 2001 default and could further complicate the battle with holdout creditors.

The holdouts argue that Argentina voluntarily issued the original bonds under US laws to help attract investors.

One of the holdout creditors, Aurelius Capital Management LP, issued a statement blasting the new strategy as an "evasion plan," that is in violation of a court order upheld by the US Supreme Court.

"Argentina's leaders have literally chosen to be outlaws," it said. "They have chronically flouted US court orders, lied to our courts, and proclaimed utter disdain for our courts."

Argentina's 2001 default on more than US$100 billion was at the time the largest sovereign debt default in history and is at the heart of the legal dispute behind the latest default.

A minority of creditors, led by a New York-based hedge fund, refused to accept deeply discounted exchange bonds and obtained a US court order requiring the South American government to pay them in full, a total of about US$1.5 billion.

Argentina has said it cannot pay the holdout creditors without offering a new settlement to the more than 90 per cent of bondholders who accepted the exchanges in 2005 and 2010, resulting in a stand-off that threatens to derail an already weak economy and make it even harder for the South American country to gain access to international credit in the future.

Criesa scheduled a new hearing for 3 p.m. yesterday, Thursday, on the missed debt payment.

- AP