- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

When the National Football League wants to play a game in a foreign country, as the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants did during the 2007 season, its players must settle any outstanding child support payments owed in order to receive a passport.

Federal law prohibits an individual who owes more than $5,000 in child-support payments from receiving a passport until he or she pays. The Passport Denial Program is enforced through the Department of Health and Human Services. It is devoted to scrutinizing passport applicants for deadbeat parents. According to the HHS website, the program collected more than $12.5 million in child support payments from January through September 2005. In one case, a NFL player traveling to Tokyo to play a football game paid the state of Texas $15,000 in back child support payments.

So what happens when an entire country refuses to pay its court ordered debts?

Apparently nothing.

The Government of Argentina owes scores of U.S. companies hundreds of millions of dollars it refuses to pay. Yet, despite its delinquency, the U.S. government has granted visas to the Argentina Men’s National Soccer team to play against the U.S. Men’s National Team at Giants Stadium June 8th.

The Argentinean National Soccer Team is, in effect, an extension of the government of Argentina and its people, representing Argentina at various international competitions and events. Indeed, the National Soccer Team is the persona of Argentina, which is amply displayed when Argentina competes against other countries, especially its political rivals such as England. The United States should revoke the soccer team’s visas and those of other Argentinean officials traveling to the United States until Argentina makes progress on its unpaid debts.

The case of an Argentine state-owned insurance company, Caja Nacional de Ahorro y Seguros (Caja), is illustrative of the problem. In 1991, the government of Argentina restructured Caja and the company was privatized. The privatized Caja assumed all of the domestic debt (Argentina liabilities) while the Government of Argentina (Ministry of Economy) retained all of the foreign obligations owed by the company. Through reinsurance contracts Caja agreed to cover a share of losses that a U.S. insurance company paid out to U.S. policyholders on toxic tort and asbestos cases. Currently, 636 United States entities have 4,017 open claims on the policies reinsured by Caja.

The Ministry of Economy has refused to fulfill its obligations under the reinsurance contracts. Despite multiple, prolonged efforts to receive payment, Caja has never paid its share of the claims. Argentina was sued in federal court and judgments against Caja were rendered and upheld on appeal. Still Argentina refuses to pay and will not even appear in court to disclose its assets. Diligent efforts to work with successive governments in Argentina have been fruitless. Indeed, Argentinean President Cristina Kirschner says she wants to attract more direct U.S. investment in Argentina. Why would anyone invest in Argentina when the policy of the Government of Argentina is to not fulfill its obligations?

In the United States, rule of law governs the land. Under the rule of law, courts have the power and authority to hold entities accountable, even our nation’s top political leaders. Yet Argentina apparently thinks it is above the law and refuses to pay even in the face of fines totaling $4,000 per day.

With such flagrant disregard for U.S. law, the Argentinean soccer team should not be allowed to play at Giants Stadium. International soccer is a huge business. International Federation of Association Football, soccer’s governing body, generated more than $3 billion in revenue between 2003 and 2006. The Argentina team should not be allowed to pursue its next pay check on American soil while U.S. companies fruitlessly wait for theirs.

Former Rep. Henry Bonilla is a partner with D.C.-based Normandy Group.

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