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Teetering on default, Russia misses $1.9 million payment, committee determines

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  • Russia fails to pay $1.9 million in accrued interest on a dollar bond.
  • Failure expected to trigger payouts potentially worth billions of dollars.
  • Sanctions on Russia have excluded it from global financial system. 

NEW YORK/LONDON: Russia’s failure to pay $1.9 million in accrued interest on a dollar bond will trigger payouts potentially worth billions of dollars, a panel of investors determined on Wednesday, as the country teeters on its first major external debt default in over a century. 

Sanctions imposed by western countries and their allies on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, as well as countermeasures by Moscow, have all but excluded the country from the global financial system. 

The lapse last month of a key US license allowing Russia to make payments put the prospect of the country defaulting back into focus. 

A Credit Derivatives Determinations Committee (CDDC) overseeing Europe, whose members are banks and asset managers, said on its website on Wednesday that it voted “yes” to a question on whether a “failure to pay credit event” occurred with respect to Russia.

Citibank was the sole “no” vote, while 12 other members voted “yes”.

Russia’s international 2022 bond matured on April 4 and payment of principal and interest due at maturity was not made until May 2. During that period, Russia was obligated to continue to pay interest which a holder calculated at $1.9 million. 

The CDDC was then asked to determine if Russia’s non-payment constituted a failure to pay that would trigger payouts for insurance against a default, or credit default swaps (CDS).

The committee, whose members also include Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, Elliot Management and PIMCO, agreed that the failure to pay happened on May 19 and that a request to find a resolution was submitted on May 26. Citi again voted ‘no’.

The committee will meet again on June 6 at 2pm London time (1300 GMT) to continue the process, which could move to set up an auction to determine any CDS payouts.

There are currently $2.54 billion of net notional CDS outstanding in relation to Russia, including $1.68 billion on the country itself and the remainder on the CDX.EM index, according to JPMorgan calculations.

A default for the purposes of CDS contracts “occurs once the determination committee votes for a credit event, which has now happened,” said Gabriele Foa, portfolio manager of the Global Credit Opportunities Fund at Algebris.

“Of course […] it is a very small amount, so the definition of default is very technical. If, as it seems, it is not possible for foreign investors to receive dollars starting May 25, the default will soon be more material.”

The focus for a wider default is now on a coupon payment due June 24 on a bond issued in 1998.

Russia has under $40 billion of international bonds outstanding and close to $2 billion in payments are due through year-end.

The country has the means to avoid default, with nearly $650 billion of available gold and currency reserves prior to the Ukraine invasion, which it calls a “special military operation”, and makes billions of dollars a week selling oil and gas.

Russia’s Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said last month that Moscow will service its external debt obligations in roubles if the United States blocks other options and will not call itself in default as it has the means to pay. Not all bonds allow for payment in roubles, however.

Russia has said it could extend a scheme used for its gas payments to sovereign bondholders, allowing Eurobond investors to open Russian FX and rouble accounts. The money would be channelled through Russia’s National Settlement Depository (NSD), which is not under Western sanctions.

Russian dollar-denominated bonds rose between 1 cent and 2.5 cents on Wednesday, Refinitiv data show. They are in the very distressed territory, ranging in price from 30 cents on the dollar to as low as 19 cents.

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government contests Imran Khan and Qureshi’s exoneration in the cipher case

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On Thursday, the federal government led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court contesting the exoneration of former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and former Prime Minister Imran Khan in the well-known cipher case.

Citing procedural and jurisdictional issues, the Ministry of Interior has appealed the Islamabad High Court’s (IHC) ruling.

In hearing the cipher case, the High Court allegedly overreached its power, arguing that judges cannot change laws where Parliament has not expressly passed legislation.

Despite receiving government-funded legal representation, the petition emphasized Imran Khan and Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s lack of cooperation during the trial, submitting 65 separate motions and neglecting to cross-examine witnesses.

The petition contended that in order for a retrial to satisfy legal standards, the High Court should have ignored important evidence that was given during the trial. It requests that the appeals contesting the IHC’s June 3 acquittal be given a hearing date by the Supreme Court.

Case history

The cipher issue concerns a supposed diplomatic document that disappeared from Imran Khan’s custody. The cipher allegedly contained threats from the US to remove Khan from office, according to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. Shah Mehmood Qureshi and several aides, including Asad Umar, are named in the First Information Report (FIR) submitted by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in accordance with Section 34 of the Pakistan Penal Code and Sections 5 and 9 of the Official Secrets Act.

The then-foreign secretary received a diplomatic cipher from Washington on March 7, 2022, according to the FIR. The lawsuit claims that by manipulating the data for their own benefit, Khan and Qureshi put the safety of the country at risk. It alleges that on March 28, 2022, Khan secretly met at his Bani Gala home and gave his Principal Secretary, Muhammad Azam Khan, instructions to change the content of the cipher to his advantage, jeopardizing national security.

The document asserts that Khan still has custody of the cipher, jeopardizing Pakistan’s encrypted messaging systems and possibly helping foreign forces, which would be detrimental to the nation. A complaint has been filed by the FIA’s Anti-Terrorism Wing against Khan, Qureshi, and other individuals for improper use of state secrets and unapproved possession of the cipher.

Acquittal by the Islamabad High Court

In the cipher case, on June 3, the IHC cleared Khan and Qureshi when Justice Aamir Farooq issued a succinct ruling in their favor. Their sentences were appealed in the case, which has since been a source of political and legal controversy, leading to their acquittal.

This acquittal and the ongoing legal and political struggles surrounding the cipher case are highlighted by the government’s subsequent move to contest it.

With potentially huge ramifications for the parties involved and the larger political scene, the Supreme Court’s decision over whether to hear the appeal will be keenly scrutinized.

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Shahid Khaqan Abbasi urges political stability in order to accelerate economic expansion.

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Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the former prime minister, emphasized on Thursday how important political stability is to Pakistan’s economic development and how the nation cannot prosper without it.

His concern was that export growth had not progressed, and he emphasized that stability in the current climate is vital to draw investments and carry out the necessary reforms.

In his criticism of the tax system, Abbasi brought up the erratic nature of tax laws and the transient nature of the most recent tax slab implementation. Insisting that difficult choices are unavoidable for economic recovery, he emphasized the necessity of designing a tax system that is equitable and does not burden the people.

Furthermore, arguing that the effectiveness of organizations like the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is essential for economic governance and transparency, Abbasi urged for changes within these and other organizations.

Abbasi, in his discussion of more comprehensive fiscal plans, suggested that the National Finance Commission (NFC) award be reviewed again and that power distribution companies (DISCOs) be decentralized to the provinces.

In order to reduce inefficiencies and corruption at the provincial level, he recommended looking into ways to share the cost of defense spending and decentralize the management of energy resources.

In closing, Abbasi emphasized that Pakistan’s economic trajectory will stay stagnant unless comprehensive changes are implemented immediately. To move the nation towards sustainable progress, he urged policymakers to give stability and structural reforms first priority.

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Through in-app QR payments, Zindigi and SBP streamline transactions involving sacrificial animals.

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With its in-app QR code payment system based on Raast, Zindigi—powered by JS Bank—has elevated the convenience of cashless payments for the procurement of sacrificial animals to a whole new level for Eid ul Adha.

This program uses QR code payments to streamline transactions for sacrificed animals for the general public and traders. It is a component of the State Bank of Pakistan’s Raast quick payment service.

This feature enables users of Zindigi and users of any digital banking apps or wallets to safely and easily make payments at certain cattle markets throughout Pakistan using Zindigi QR. The consumer must scan the QR code of the livestock merchant and pay the transaction amount in order to complete the payment.

In order to further financial inclusion and digital innovation in Pakistan’s developing economy, Zindigi and the State Bank of Pakistan have partnered. Both organizations are committed to improving the efficiency and accessibility of financial services, especially on holidays such as Eid ul Adha, by utilizing the most recent developments in fintech.

One of the most important steps toward promoting financial inclusion and economic empowerment at the local level is the integration of livestock markets into the digital economy. Farmers and retailers may take charge of their financial operations and help realize the larger goal of an inclusive digital Pakistan by adopting digital payments.

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