ICSID registers claim by Spanish investor against Argentina over airline dispute

By Fernando Cabrera Diaz
20 February 2009

The Spanish investor Grupo Marsans is behind a claim against Argentina registered by the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes on 30 January 2009.

A spokesperson for the Madrid-based Grupo Marsans, Angel Del Rio, said his company had launched those proceedings through a holding company, Teinver S.A, as negotiations with Argentina over a possible settlement continue.  According to Mr. Del Rio, the parties are close to reaching an agreement, although they have yet to sign one.

As reported previously by ITN, Grupo Marsans agreed to sell the troubled airline back to Argentina last July, but the two sides have been unable to agree on a sale price.  Argentina’s Planning Ministry says that Aerolineas Argentinas and its sister Austral are US$832 million in debt.  However, a Credit Suisse valuation at the request of the Grupo Marsans estimated the airlines’ combined worth at between US$350-445 Million.

Given the wide gulf in valuations, the negotiations have become bitter, with public accusations aired by both sides.  With negotiations deadlocked, on 24 November the Argentine Senate introduced a bill that would expropriate the airlines in return for a symbolic sum of $1 in compensation. On 17 December, the Senate voted 42 to 20 to approve the bill.

Since Argentina took over the airlines, both parties have continued to negotiate. According to Mr. Del Rio, Grupo, Marsans is asking that the Argentine government take over part of a contract for 73 Airbus commercial planes, many of which were originally intended to join the Aerolineas fleet. Mr. Del Rio explains that if Argentina took over the contract, Grupo Marsans could recuperate a 180 milliion Euro deposit it has with Airbus.

The Marsans claim is registered on behalf of Teinver S.A., Transportes de Cercanías S.A. and Autobuses Urbanos del Sur S.A., which belong to the Marsans corporate chain. The three companies held shares indirectly or directly in the airline, according to Craig Miles of King & Spalding, who is representing the Claimants.

Mr. Miles said that the claimants are alleging several violations of the Argentina-Spain Bilateral Investment Treaty, including expropriation without compensation, Fair and Equitable Treatment and arbitrary and discriminatory measures, among others.

According to Mr. Miles the ICSID claim is proceeding as normal despite the ongoing negotiations.