Argentina has taken its legal battle with "holdout" creditors to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking that body to overturn a lower court ruling in a case whose outcome could push the country into default.
The country is seeking to void an October 2012 ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York that found it had violated a clause in its bond documents requiring it to treat creditors equally.
In its petition filed on Monday with the Supreme Court, Argentina called that ruling "irreconcilable" with Congressional intent and prior case law, and would let U.S. courts "use their coercive powers to restrain sovereign property located outside the United States."
Argentina's filing came as investors await a 2nd Circuit ruling on whether to uphold U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa's order last November that Argentina pay holdout bondholders $1.33 billion.
The U.S. Supreme Court is finishing its term this week, and is unlikely to act on Argentina's petition before the 2nd Circuit rules in the payout case.For the last decade, Argentina and the creditors have sparred in U.S. courts over the South American country's $100 billion default in 2002.
The creditors bringing the lawsuits are led by NML Capital Ltd, a unit of billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer's Elliott Management Corp, and Aurelius Capital Management. They refused to take part in 2005 and 2010 debt swaps that drew participation from 93 percent of bondholders, who accepted returns as low as 25 cents on the dollar.
In his November order, Griesa had instructed Argentina to pay the holdouts the full $1.33 billion owed them the next time it serviced restructured debt.
Some investors are nervous because Argentina appears willing to enter into technical default to avoid paying the holdouts more than creditors who took part in the swaps received. Prior court rulings in favor of holdouts and against Argentina have caused turmoil in the country's bond markets.
In its Supreme Court appeal, Argentina accused the 2nd Circuit of interfering too deeply into its affairs, despite protections afforded by the federal Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976.
Argentina said the 2nd Circuit has blocked it from paying $24 billion of debt unless it also paid holdout bondholders.
"The Second Circuit decision warrants review because it represents an unprecedented intrusion into the activities of a foreign state within its own territory that raises significant foreign relations concerns for the United States," Argentina wrote. A spokesman for NML declined comment. Aurelius could not immediately be reached for comment.