The Landmark Court Battle over Argentina's $100 Billion Debt Restructuring

Gregory Makoff
Foreword by Lee C. Buchheit

"An engrossing page-turner about what happens when law and geopolitics collide, and a triumphant synthesis of the most venomous topic in international finance." —Felix Salmon, chief financial correspondent, Axios, and author of The Phoenix Economy: Work, Life, and Money in the New Not Normal
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The dramatic inside story of the most important case in the history of sovereign debt law

Unlike individuals or corporations that become insolvent, nations do not have access to bankruptcy protection from their creditors. When a country defaults on its debt, the international financial system is ill equipped to manage the crisis. Decisions by key individuals—from national leaders to those at the International Monetary Fund, from holdout creditors to judges—determine the fate of an entire national economy. A prime example is Argentina’s 2001 default on $100 billion in bonds, which stands out for its messy outcomes and outsized impact on sovereign debt markets, sovereign debt law, and IMF policy.

Default is the riveting story of Argentina’s sovereign debt drama, which reveals the obscure inner workings of sovereign debt restructuring. This detailed case study describes the intense fight over the role of the IMF in Argentina’s 2005 debt restructuring and the ensuing bitter decade of litigation with holdout creditors, demonstrating that outcomes for sovereign debt are determined by a complex interplay between financial markets, governments, the IMF, the press, and the courts.

This cautionary tale lays bare the institutional, political, and legal pressures that come into play when a country cannot repay its debts. It offers a deeper understanding of how global financial capitalism functions for those who work in or study debt markets, international finance, international relations, and international law.

Table of Contents


1 Argentina Defaults Then Fights with the IMF (December 2001–March 2003)
2 The Three-Way War: Argentina Battles with Creditors and the IMF over the Debt Deal (January 2003–April 2004)
3 Kirchner's Triumph: Argentina's 2005 Debt Restructuring (April 2004–June 2005)
4 Backstory: Elliot's War on Peru (1996–2000)
5 Raid on the Argentine Central Bank (December 2005–January 2007)
6 All Plaintiffs Big and Small (June 2005–December 2009)
7 Turning Point (2010)
8 Equal Treatment (October 2010–May 2014)
9 Argentina's Economic Stumbles and Elliott's Worldwide War (October 2010–June 2014)
10 It All Falls Apart (June 2014–November 2015)
11 The Settlement (December 2015–April 2016)

Appendix A: Featured Characters
Appendix B: Timeline of Events
Note on Sources
About the Author


"Gregory Makoff's compelling case study of what happens when law and geopolitics collide has the complexity and richness of a great Russian novel. By transmuting a court case about pari passu into an engrossing page-turner, he has created a triumphant synthesis of the most venomous topic in international finance."—Felix Salmon, chief financial correspondent, Axios, and author of The Phoenix Economy: Work, Life, and Money in the New Not Normal

"A spectacular account of sovereign debt's case of the century. Any investor in emerging markets debt should read this story, as should any government thinking of issuing—or restructuring—an international bond."—Brad Setser, senior fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

"The battle royale between Argentina and its creditors is much more than dry finance. Makoff brings alive the humans behind sovereign debt standoffs—their skill, frailties, and above all, their will to win at seemingly all costs."—Sujeet Indap, Wall Street editor, Financial Times, and coauthor, with Max Frumes, of The Caesars Palace Coup: How a Billionaire Brawl Over the Famous Casino Exposed the Power and Greed of Wall Street

"Default is a fascinating and valuable examination of one of the most consequential events in international finance in our lifetimes—the Argentine debt default. Gregory Makoff's absorbing account of this episode is the most comprehensive available, especially in its detailed account of the intense human characters behind the complex litigation that resulted."—Randal Quarles, former vice chair of the Federal Reserve and former under secretary of the US Treasury

"Default gives readers a rare view into the economic, legal, political, and social challenges of resolving a sovereign default. While focused on the holdout litigation against Argentina, Default also explains how the country's post-2001 difficulties were exacerbated by its highly politicized approach to debt and its creditors, as well as the lack of political consensus for addressing interrelated issues across the center and provinces."—Anoop Singh, former director, Western Hemisphere Department, International Monetary Fund

"The fight between Argentina and its bondholders is one of the most significant episodes in the history of sovereign debt litigation, and Greg Makoff has written the definitive treatment."—W. Mark C. Weidemaier, Ralph M. Stockton Jr. Distinguished Professor, University of North Carolina School of Law at Chapel Hill

"An extraordinary book—it combines technical details and human interactions to produce a thrilling narrative of the legal proceedings of a sovereign debt default case that changed the way such cases are treated."—Manuel Hinds, former finance minister of El Salvador and coauthor, with Benn Steil, of Money, Markets, and Sovereignty,

"While there is a substantial body of legal literature on Judge Thomas P. Griesa’s 2012 decision to impose the pari passu injunction on Argentina, Gregory Makoff’s Default is the first book that fully explains why he did it. Makoff achieves this by detailing all the events that, in a dramatic climax, led up to the decision, including Judge Griesa’s building anger at Argentina. It’s a surprising and fascinating story that should make it a fun read for legal scholars and general readers alike."—Annamaria Viterbo, professor of international law, University of Turin, Italy

"Makoff deftly traces the dynamics of the long-running struggle between the government of Argentina and its creditors. His meticulously researched narrative reveals political as well as legal struggles, involving the IMF and its member governments; retail investors in Germany, Italy, and Japan; holdout creditors in the United States; and Argentina’s political elites. Default reminds us why creating better mechanisms for addressing sovereign debt crises is both so important and so difficult to achieve. This book will be of interest to anyone—political scientists, economists, historians, and finance professionals, among others—interested in gaining a deeper understanding of sovereign debt dynamics."—Layna Mosley, professor of politics and international affairs, Princeton University

"[A] superb account."—David Skeel, Wall Street Journal

"Default is a powerful, exciting and instructive book that clearly and surprisingly amusingly presents the 'lengthiest, messiest sovereign debt restructuring in history' (283)."—ReVista Harvard Review of Latin America

"This book is a pleasant surprise."—CHOICE connect

"A scrupulously fair and comprehensive look at the trial of the century for sovereign debt."—Robin Wigglesworth, Financial Times

"Featuring excerpts from numerous legal briefs, oral arguments, and judicial musings and decisions—as well as revealing interviews with key participants—the book should be required reading for students of international law, and of interest to anyone wanting to understand what the "Trial of the Century," as it was referred to in the press and among attorneys, was all about."—Americas Quarterly

"For anyone with an interest in the subject, Makoff's book is a scrupulously fair and comprehensive look at the trial of the century for sovereign debt...."—Financial Times

"For the benefit of sovereign debtors facing similar situations, we can now depend on this comprehensive and engaging analysis of the Argentina default, masterfully presented by Gregory Makoff. I only lament that the book was unavailable a few years ago...."—ReVista Harvard Review of Latin America

"[Makoff] packs a lot of detail about the many overlapping legal cases, the players on all sides and the macro conditions into this "courtroom drama," which doubles as a guide about challenging debt restructuring."—Ziemba Insights

"For students and professors, Makoff sticks the landing in authoring both a scholarly and practical history. Much ink has been spilt in academic circles on how sovereign debt markets work in theory. It took a practitioner like Makoff to explain how the world is rather than how it is supposed to be."—Enterprising Investor

"Alternating between spellbinding narrative and dry legal analysis, he describes the thrust and parry between Argentine governments and litigious investors...."—Foreign Affairs



About the Author

Gregory Makoff, PhD, is a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation and an expert on sovereign debt management. A former banker specializing in debt advice, liability management, and derivatives, he has also advised the US Department of the Treasury.

424 pp., 6 x 9 x 1.3125
15 color photos, 5 figures
ISBN: 978-1-64712-397-0
Feb 2024

424 pp., 6 x 9 x 1.3125
15 color photos, 5 figures
Feb 2024

424 pp.
15 color photos, 5 figures
ISBN: 978-1-64712-398-7
Feb 2024

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