While the government praised it as reinstating certainty, some savers saw it as the end of a nightmare and banks continue mum and mulling its possible implications, law experts said that the Supreme Court ruling that ordered banks on Wednesday to reimburse savers in pesos dollar deposits frozen during Argentina's 2001 economic debacle, was fairly reasonable.
Cabinet Chief Alberto Fernández said that "essentially, what has been achieved is certainty, namely for the savers, and that is healthy for any republic." Nito Artaza, a comedian turned savers' crusader said that the ruling was "the legal end of a nightmare." However, he added: "I regret that banks were given so much time, because many people gave up fighting and many other died in the meantime." He also regretted that banks were not ordered to give back dollars. The Court ordered banks to reimburse savers the value in pesos of their dollar deposits at an exchange rate of 1.40 pesos per dollar, adjusted for inflation, with a four percent annual interest to be counted since banking restrictions were imposed in 2001 to prevent a collapse of the financial system. The calculation implies a reimbursement at an exchange rate of 3.08 pesos per dollar ÃÂ¢€" about the current value of the dollar ÃÂ¢€" and hence, the Court said, "savers should recover 100 percent of the value of their dollar deposits." The ruling actually was issued in the individual case started by saver Juan Massa against BankBoston but will be applicable to the about 50,000 pending lawsuits. But it does not apply to savers who had reached previous paying agreements with banks. The decision was signed by justices Elena Highton de Nolasco, Carmen Argibay, Ricardo Lorenzetti, Carlos Fayt and Eugenio Zaffaroni. Juan Carlos Maqueda abstained and Enrique Petracchi was excused because of having a term deposit. "In general terms, the ruling is fairly reasonable," former Justice minister Ricardo Gil Lavedra told MercoPress. "This closes the chapter." Félix Loñ, a Constitutional law expert, agreed. "A reasonable balance has been established. However, we cannot speak of a fully fair situation because, strictly speaking, what would have been fully fair would have been savers getting their deposits when they made it and in dollars." The US dollar has bee a traditional haven for Argentine savers fearful of devaluations or legal insecurity. Gregorio Badeni, another Constitutional law expert, told MercoPress that banks will not be able to demand savers for any payment that savers may have got in excess as a result of previous accords. However, he added that in some cases savers could file further lawsuits against the banks. "What most savers demanded was the reimbursement of the deposit in dollars and only a few of them, if any, demanded to be paid interests. From the Court ruling it can be gathered that they could still demand to be reimbursed the interests." Many press reports said that the ruling actually upheld the pesification of the economy imposed by then caretaker president Eduardo Duhalde in early 2002. However, Badeni said that the ruling doesn't actually say whether the pesification was Constituional or not, although, he added, at least Fayt and Argibay said in their votes that it was unconstitutional. "The ruling upheld the pesification in the individual Massa case as mechanism to determine the value for reimbursement. The Court thought that if it could satisfy the savers' demand, it made no sense to rule on the constitutionality or not of the pesification and force banks to give back dollars because actually what savers get is the equivalent in pesos." Loñ said that ruling the pesification unconstitutional, would have entailed a strong signal of legal insecurity in the country. Badeni said that the Supreme Court ruling is mandatory for lower courts, unless lower courts find a reason to argue otherwise. "However, I think that lower courts will accept this ruling, considering that its application doesn't cause damages to savers." Banks, meanwhile, reportedly fearing that they may be the subject of further sues, were keeping a virtual hermetic silence. "We are analyzing the ruling in detail and it is too early to give you an opinion," the spokesman for a large foreign bank told MercoPress. "We are serious people and we will not talk about the ruling," a source from a local bank said. When pointed out that one can be serious and still talk, the source said: "Well, I am sorry, I am telling you what I have been ordered to say." A former Central Bank president talking to MercoPresson condition of anonymity said: "I don't think banks will make any comment before next week. I can assure you that right now they are underlining each and every word of the ruling seven times." (MercoPress ÃÂ¢€" Guillermo Háskel)