BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) -- Argentina lost its first round at the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday in a crucial battle over bond payments.
Justices refused to hear the country's appeal of a ruling that would force Argentines to either pay about $1.4 billion in cash to a group of hedge funds, or go into default on most of the other bonds issued to make good on debts stemming from the country's 2001 crisis.
The decision was expected, and almost certainly won't be Argentina's last shot at a Supreme Court hearing. Its government still has ways of delaying a final result from U.S. courts for months.
"Argentina will keep exercising its right to defend itself with all available resources," Finance Secretary Adrian Cosentino said Monday.
Argentina has already asked the U.S. 2nd Court of Appeals in New York to assemble a full "en banc" rehearing of the finding by one of its three-judge panels, and Consentino noted that a stay remains in place meanwhile.
The second circuit almost never grants en banc rehearings -- it did so only eight times while deciding nearly 30,000 cases in more than a decade, the Federal Bar Council found in 2011. But even if it's rejected again, Argentina will have 90 more days before appealing again to the Supreme Court, which could put off the final consequences until late 2014 or even later.
The Supreme Court justices did not comment on their order Monday.
The legal case stems from Argentina's financial crisis a dozen years ago, when the government defaulted on a record $100 billion in debts, and some investors scooped up nearly worthless Argentine bonds. More than 90 percent of bondholders have been receiving payments for years since agreeing to swap their un-performing paper for new bonds that initially paid less than 30 cents for each dollar of bad debt. Many of the rest, led by NML Capital Ltd., a hedge fund managed by New York billionaire Paul Singer, sued and won their case before U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa.
Fernandez has repeatedly refused to pay these plaintiffs "a single dollar," calling them vultures who prey on emerging economies, and is prepared to defy the U.S. courts by preparing another debt swap that would be guaranteed instead under Argentine law.
Mark Sherman reported from Washington, D.C.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.