By Cara Salvatore
Law360, New York (February 20, 2015, 9:14 PM ET) — A Nevada federal magistrate responding to a journalist’s request said he will unseal the deposition of a law firm employee at the center of NML Capital Ltd.’s $1.7 billion search for judgment money in its bond fight with the government of Argentina, according to a Thursday order.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Cam Ferenbach ordered the testimony of MF Corporate Services’ Patricia Amunategui to be unsealed — with redactions of sensitive personal information — in response to a request by an Argentine journalist who has been investigating potential ties between dozens of Nevada shell corporations and the president of Argentina.
Judge Ferenbach acknowledged the “considerable stress” Amunategui has experienced and will experience because of her role in the ordeal, however.
“The difficulties Ms. Amunategui faces are appreciable,” Judge Ferenbach said. “She is not a public figure and not a party to the underlying lawsuit. Nonetheless, she finds herself at the center of a dispute involving $1.7 billion, a hedge fund, and a foreign nation’s sovereign-default crisis and a political scandal.”
To prevent the unsealing, Amunategui would have to show that she would likely be harmed in a particular way and that her interest in privacy overrode the public’s interest in disclosure. She was not able to do that, the judge said.
“These matters cannot be litigated in secret,” he said. “Doing so would limit the public’s understanding of the court’s final decision and, therefore, risk weakening the judicial power, which depends upon public access and trust.”
The journalist, Jorge Lanata, requested the unsealing in early December.
Amunategui has identified herself as the vice president of MFCS, the Nevada outpost of Panama-based law firm Mossack & Fonseca.
“We are obviously disappointed,” Kent Woods, an attorney for MFCS, said by email. “There are a few procedural issues left to resolve that are related to that order, and I am hopeful that the people involved will respect the seal until those issues can be worked out.”
In August, Judge Ferenbach granted NML Capital’s request to wrest information from numerous companies that the hedge fund says are hiding $65 million embezzled from Argentina’s coffers, ruling against 123 Nevada entities the judge described as shell companies.
Judge Ferenbach said the companies must hand over information on their finances, or provide a deponent, so that NML can try to find out the location of money that was allegedly embezzled by current Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, her husband, and associate Lazaro Baez. NML is going after Argentine assets for repayment of $1.7 billion in bonds that it has refused to restructure with the now-defaulted country.
The Argentine government has been investigating the alleged embezzlement of the money since 2013. It apparently came from infrastructure projects, Judge Ferenbach said.
Judge Ferenbach ordered that an attorney with Mossack & Fonseca, which helped create the companies, or another deponent would have to undergo a deposition in Las Vegas. It’s not currently clear whether that took place or whether Amunategui’s deposition served in stead.
A representative for NML declined to comment.
MF Corporate Services (Nevada) Ltd. is represented by Kent Woods of Woods Erickson & Whitaker LLP.
The 123 entities are represented by Jason Wiley of Kolesar & Leatham.
The case is NML Capital Ltd. v. Republic of Argentina, case number 2:14-cv-00492, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada.