Republican Billionaire Spearheads Campaign to Link Argentina to Iranian ‘Devil’
Republican donor Paul Singer.
Photo Credit: World Economic Forum/Flickr
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When Argentina defaulted on its national debt in 2001, U.S. hedge funds swooped in to buy the nation’s bonds at pennies on the dollar, confident they would eventually prevail in the U.S. legal system and force the country to pay out in full.
That battle is set to reach the Supreme Court later this year, but the country’s creditors on Wall Street – labeled “vulture capitalists” by their critics – are also making their case in Congress and the court of public opinion, with a current media campaign aimed at painting Argentina as an increasingly rogue nation in bed with Washington’s enemies.
The public relations effort, which focuses on Argentina’s increasingly friendly relations with Iran, comes as the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama is weighing whether to side with Argentina before the Supreme Court in its battle with Wall Street. According to The Washington Post, officials from the Justice Department, Treasury Department and State Department met Jul. 12 with lawyers from both sides to discuss the case.
In previous court filings, the Obama administration has argued that Argentina’s debt is not a matter for the U.S. legal system, reflecting concerns that a victory for its holdout bondholders could cause another default and complicate future debt restructuring plans for other nations.
However, Argentina’s bondholders, including one of the top financiers of right-wing politics in the U.S., have a string of victories under their belt. In October 2012, a federal appeals court ruled that the South American nation and member of the G20 must pay out more than 1.3 billion dollars to its creditors.
Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced Jul. 24 that it would not formally side with Argentina in its U.S. legal battle. An IMF statement cited opposition from the Obama administration.
That the White House is backing away from its earlier defences of Argentina indicates that the millions of dollars U.S. hedge funds have spent lobbying members of the administration, Congress and the press are starting to change the debate, with Iran about as popular as Iraq was in 2002.
“We do whatever we can to get our government and media’s attention focused on what a bad actor Argentina is,” Robert Raben, executive director of the American Task Force Argentina (ATFA), recently explainedto The Huffington Post.
An assistant attorney general under President Bill Clinton (1993-2001), Raben’s group was founded by Argentina’s holdout bondholders and, to date, has spent at least 3.8 million dollars on its efforts to paint Argentina in a bad light. But the money it has spent pales in comparison to what ATFA’s funders stand to gain.
In 2008, hedge fund NML Capital – whose parent company Elliott Management, led by major Republican donor Paul Singer, is spearheading the legal and political battle over Argentina’s debt obligations – paid 48 million dollars for bonds that prior to the country’s default had been valued at over 300 million dollars.
After the default, more than 92 percent of Argentina’s bondholders agreed to accept a fraction of what they were originally owed as part of a negotiated settlement. NML, however, insists Argentina pay out the full 370 million dollars, which would be a return of more than 770 percent on the firm’s initial investment.
Singer has done this before, purchasing bonds worth around 30 million dollars from the world’s poorest country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and suing for repayment of over 100 million dollars. In the case of Argentina, the groups behind ATFA stand to gain more than 1.3 billion dollars.
Including fights going on in other jurisdictions, however, Singer alone ultimately stands to gain more than two billion dollars in his battle with the South American nation. But it’s not just about debt anymore.