(Adds details from decision, background, presidential election, byline)
By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK, Oct 30 (Reuters) - The U.S. judge overseeing litigation stemming from Argentina’s $100 billion default in 2002 ordered the country to pay holders of several billion dollars of its defaulted bonds whenever it pays holders of bonds issued in two debt restructurings.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa in Manhattan ruled on Friday in favor of plaintiffs in 49 lawsuits seeking the same relief as holdout bondholders, including Elliott Management Corp’s NML Capital Ltd, which won a court ruling that directed Argentina to pay it $1.33 billion plus interest.
Argentina has not complied with that ruling, and defaulted again in July 2014 as a result. The additional plaintiffs are known as “me-too” plaintiffs because their bonds are similar to those owned by the holdouts.
Carmine Boccuzzi, a lawyer for Argentina, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Argentina swapped 92 percent of its defaulted debt at a steep discount in 2005 and 2010 restructurings. But it has refused to pay holdout bondholders, who it calls “vultures” for seeking full payment on their unswapped bonds.
Like the holdouts, the “me-too” plaintiffs’ bonds contain a clause requiring Argentina to pay them whenever it pays investors who own bonds that were swapped.
Griesa said that clause must be enforced, saying it was in the public interest, and citing Argentina’s having “escalated its scheme” to pay holders of restructured bonds even as it refuses to pay holders of unrestructured bonds.
He also rejected Argentina’s argument that an injunction requiring equal treatment could impede settlement talks with the holdouts, overseen by court-appointed mediator Daniel Pollack.
“The Republic’s reluctance to entertain meaningful settlement discussions before the special master should not prevent plaintiffs from vindicating their rights,” Griesa wrote. “If anything, the equities cut the other way.”
Argentinians voted on Sunday to choose a successor to President Cristina Fernandez, a leading critic of the holdouts. A runoff between ruling party candidate Daniel Scioli and opposition candidate Mauricio Macri is scheduled for Nov. 22. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Chizu Nomiyama)