U.S. judge who oversaw Argentina debt saga dead at 87

Horacio Vazquez, an Argentine 56-year-old engineer who bought $70,000 worth of sovereign bonds in 2000, looks at a picture of U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa on his computer during an interview with Reuters in Buenos Aires, November 29, 2012. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

By Daniel Bases

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A senior federal judge in New York who oversaw the historic sovereign debt default cases brought against Argentina by creditors, Thomas Griesa, died on Christmas Eve at the age of 87, Special Master Daniel Pollack said.

Griesa, whose rulings in the Argentina case brought him notoriety on Wall Street and infamy on the streets of Buenos Aires, ultimately ruled in favor of deep-pocketed hedge funds against the successive governments of Presidents Nestor Kirchner and then his wife Cristina Fernandez. The key rulings were upheld on appeal.

"Judge Griesa lived a long and productive life, serving as a Federal Judge for over 40 years. He presided for 15 years over the many cases against the Republic of Argentina with courage, dignity and even-handedness," said Pollack, who as Special Master appointed by Griesa, oversaw the successful settlement between Argentina and its creditors.

"His rulings set the stage for the historic settlement negotiations of 2016 which, in turn, paved the way for the return of the Republic of Argentina to the global capital markets. His death creates a void for all who knew and deeply respected him," Pollack added in the statement.

Griesa, a former chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York from 1993 to 2000, was nominated to the federal bench by President Richard Nixon in 1972, according to the Federal Judicial Center website.

Born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1930, Griesa earned his undergraduate degree from Harvard University in 1952. He then served two years in the U.S. Coast Guard. Following his national service he entered Stanford University Law School, graduating in 1958.

Griesa died in New York, Pollack told Reuters. Attempts to reach court officials were unsuccessful given the Christmas Day holiday.

Griesa's last unresolved cases were reassigned in June, according to court records at the time. [nL1N1J527F]

The Argentina creditors who held out from two prior government debt restructuring offers in 2005 and 2010 finally agreed to a $4.65 billion settlement in the early days of President Mauricio Macri's administration in February 2016. This effectively ended the long-standing dispute and allowed Argentina, which defaulted on roughly $100 billion in sovereign debt in early 2002, to re-enter the international capital markets.

(Reporting by Daniel Bases; Editing by Sandra Maler)