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U.S. judge orders Argentina to pay $16 billion for expropriation of YPF oil company

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — A U.S. judge ruled that Argentina must pay $16.1 billion to minority shareholders of state-controlled oil company YPF due to the government’s 2012 nationalization of a majority stake in the firm.

U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska in New York issued final judgment Friday detailing the dollar amount that the South American country would have to pay.

Preska on Friday ordered Argentina to pay $14.38 billion to Petersen Energía, including $7.5 billion in damages and $6.85 billion in interest and $1.7 billion to Eton Capital, including $897.75 million in damages and $816.58 million in interest. Interest will continue to accrue if Argentina fails to pay, Preska said.

Argentina, which is currently suffering dire economic woes that include a low level of Central Bank reserves, rising poverty and a galloping inflation of more than 100% per year, has vowed to appeal the ruling.

A week earlier, Preska had made clear it was siding with the plaintiffs in the long-running dispute. Burford Capital, which funded much of the litigation, had said after last week's ruling that it represented “a complete win against Argentina.”

More than a decade ago, the government of President Cristina Fernández, who served from 2007-2015 and who is now vice president, decided to expropriate a majority stake in Argentina’s largest energy company, YPF.

Congress passed a law expropriating 51% of the shares of YPF from then-majority shareholder Repsol, a Spanish firm. Repsol ultimately received compensation worth some $5 billion.

Yet minority shareholders Petersen Energia and Eton Park filed suit, saying the government had violated the company’s statutes by not offering to tender for the remaining shares in the company.

YPF is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, so the plaintiffs were able to file their suit in U.S. court.

In a ruling earlier this year, Preska agreed with the shareholders and said they were owed compensation by Argentina and that YPF had no responsibility in the expropriation.

Argentina had argued it should not have to pay more than $5 billion.

The opposition has used the ruling to criticize Fernández as well as Buenos Aires Gov. Axel Kicillof, who was then deputy economy minister and widely seen as the mastermind behind the expropriation. Kicillof is running for reelection in October.