The saga of the Argentine Navy flagship ARA Libertad retained in Ghana seems to have no short term political solution as the government of President Cristina Fernandez was expecting, while in Buenos Aires the head of military strategic intelligence resigned and there is mounting pressure on the Ministry of Defence.
According to reports from Accra, the Ghana government sided with Argentina in the case requesting the release of the vessel, impounded by the US NML hedge fund, however the High court in trade issues headed by magistrate Richard Agyei-Frimpong ruled in favour of the plaintiff and the vessel remains in the port of Tema.
Allegedly during last week’s hearing when magistrate Agyei-Frimpong confirmed the impound, an officer from the Ghana Foreign Affairs ministry presented what is known as a ‘amicus curare’ so that the Accra government could testify in support of the release of ARA Libertad.
The Ghanaian officer said ARA Libertad was a war vessel and thus enjoys diplomatic immunity, following the Argentine argument. However the magistrate said that Argentina yielded immunity over the mast vessel from the moment it issued bonds currently held by the plaintiffs.
In the 25 pages ruling the magistrate argues that Argentina ceded sovereign immunity and accepted jurisdiction from the New York court in 1994 when it signed “a Fiscal Agency Agreement with the Bankers Trust Company from New York under which the bonds were purchased by the general public”.
Further on even when the Argentine frigate is a military vessel that arrived to the port of Tema invited by the Ghana government, “it does not enjoy diplomatic immunity”.
“I don’t know what the Argentine officials sent to Accra are doing (the Deputy Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defence and the ambassador in Nigeria), but it’s hard to see a political exit to the case. Unless Argentina pays the 20 million dollars bail, the only other option is the Appeals Court”, Ghanaian sources were quoted.
The Ghana Court of Appeals is made up of three magistrates and could take over a month to come to a decision. The following step is the Supreme Court, where usually rulings take at least two months and meanwhile Argentina must keep up with the docking costs in Tema, which amount to 50.000 dollars per day, plus the solicitors contracted. The best lawyers in Ghana, going through an oil boom charge 550 dollars per hour.
The hedge fund NML, which the Argentine government describes as ‘vulture fund’ holds Argentine defaulted sovereign bonds with face value of 284.2 million dollars plus interest which amount to almost 92 million dollars, as established by the New York court ruling.
Meantime in Buenos Aires it was revealed that on Tuesday the head of military strategic intelligence, Lourdes Puente Olivera, and who depends directly from the Ministry of Defence presented her resignation. She joins the head of the Navy and two other top naval officers who were sacked earlier in the controversy.
This reflects the serious internal fighting in the cabinet of President Cristina Fernandez, since Defence minister Arturo Puricelli and to a certain extent Foreign minister Hector Timerman are fingered as responsible for the ‘international embarrassing situation”, and the most vulnerable in that order.
Both ministers are accused of allowing the frigate to enter Ghana although it was known of the risks involved because of the claims from the hedge funds that are after Argentine assets trying to cash their sovereign bonds.
Apparently and according to Buenos Aires media reports President Cristina Fernandez is collecting all the possible information on the case before making a decision since she is not prepared to assume the political costs of the international incident.
With the situation in Ghana stalled, because the African nation government is not prepared to influence the Judiciary, and despite Brazilian logistic support, which has an embassy in Accra (not Argentina), the government of Cristina Fernandez is now lobbying in the United Nations among friendly nations to try and convince Accra of a diplomatic solution.
Argentina thus seems limited to diplomacy and international pressure to try and obtain the release of the Navy’s flagship ARA Libertad.