U.S. Judge Threatens Argentina Over Debt Comments

A U.S. judge threatened to hold Argentina in contempt of court Friday for continuing to make "false and misleading" statements about its financial crisis, though he quickly added he most desires a peaceful negotiated end to a long-running debt dispute.

Judge Thomas Griesa in Manhattan urged both sides to resume negotiations with help from the special master he assigned to resolve a fight over money owed to U.S. hedge funds. No talks have occurred since Argentina failed to pay bondholders on July 30.

He made the contempt threat as he warned Argentina to stop making public statements "that are false and misleading."

It came as the State Department indicated Friday that the U.S. was unlikely to agree to grant jurisdiction to the International Court of Justice in the Hague to hear Argentina's claims that U.S. court rulings amount to "violations of Argentine sovereignty." Argentina had asked the world court to take up the case.

Griesa issued his warning after reading published statements by the South American republic that he said ignored the nation's obligations to U.S. bondholders.

The bondholders are owed about $1.5 billion, which must be paid before hundreds of millions of dollars in bond payments can be passed along to about 92 percent of Argentina's bondholders. They had traded their bonds for lesser-valued bonds in 2005 and 2010 after Argentina's 2001 default.

Attorney Jonathan Blackman, representing Argentina, told Griesa that his law firm had nothing to do with Argentina's statements this week.

He cautioned the judge not to overreact to statements made by political leaders in Argentina who do not consult lawyers first, saying the statements were side issues that should not detract from the "main event."

Blackman said Argentina has "made it clear it does want to engage with all its creditors" and that talks need to continue "in some fashion."

Griesa said that the "really important thing is to recognize that this matter will not be resolved without a settlement."

The judge also tried to put to rest Argentina's claim that it was not in default because it had made a required payment to bondholders on July 30 only to have the funds blocked by his orders.

"Payment must cover what is required under the law and under the rulings of the district court and the (2nd U.S. Circuit) Court of Appeals," Griesa said. "No such payment has been made."

He added: "There must be negotiation of issues and there must be a settlement and there can be a settlement."

After the hearing, Daniel A. Pollack, the special master appointed by Griesa to conduct and preside over settlement negotiations, said he has continued to work to find a resolution in the case and planned to "convene and conduct further negotiations until a solution is reached, however long that may take."

Last week, Blackman said a negotiated solution covering debt obligations to all bondholders was necessary because Argentina would owe over $20 billion to various bondholders triggered by paying the $1.5 billion owed to U.S. hedge funds. Those hedge funds are led by New York billionaire Paul Singer's NML Capital Ltd.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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