U.S. Judge Says Argentina's Attempt to Pay Holders of Restructured Bonds Is Illegal

By Nicole Hong

A U.S. federal judge on Friday said a payment Argentina deposited in an attempt to pay holders of the country's restructured debt was illegal.

At a hearing, a lawyer for Bank of New York Mellon Corp. said the government of Argentina on Thursday deposited $ 539 million in both dollars and euros. The lawyer said BNY was aware of court orders that barred payment to holders of restructured bonds and that the money remains in the account.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa said anyone who attempts to pay these bondholders would be held in contempt of court.

"I will enter whatever order necessary to nullify this reported payment by Argentina," Judge Griesa said at the hearing.

Judge Griesa said payments on local-law bonds, debt that is governed by laws in Argentina, are allowed.

Argentina defaulted on about $100 billion of debt in 2001. The country later offered holders of the defaulted bonds new securities valued at about 33 cents on the dollar. Between the two swaps, investors agreed to exchange almost 93% of the defaulted bonds.

But a small minority of bondholders, including NML Capital and Aurelius, opted not to restructure their bonds and instead sued for full repayment. The holdouts have won about $1.5 billion in court awards in the case now before Judge Griesa.

Write to Christopher M. Matthews at christopher.matthews@wsj.com

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