Despite being bailed out to the tune of $182.5 billion dollars, and despite its current “Thank You, America” ad campaign, insurance giant American International Group (AIG) is considering joining a $25 billion shareholder lawsuit against the U.S. government that claims shareholders’ rights were “trampled” during the 2008 financial crisis.
“The government is not empowered to trample shareholder and property rights even in the midst of a financial emergency,” said former CEO Maurice Greenberg and his 2011 complaint.
What exactly does the lawsuit allege?
“Because of the bailout’s ‘punitive’ interest rate, the suit claims the U.S. violated the Fifth Amendment, which protects private property from ‘public use, without just compensation,’” New York explains.
AIG’s board will meet on Wednesday to decide whether or not they want to join the suit and seek the $25 billion from Uncle Sam.
From the New York Times:
The choice is not a simple one for the insurer. Its board members, most of whom joined after the bailout, owe a duty to shareholders to consider the lawsuit. If the board does not give careful consideration to the case, Mr. Greenberg could challenge its decision to abstain.
Should Mr. Greenberg snare a major settlement without A.I.G., the company could face additional lawsuits from other shareholders. Suing the government would not only placate the 87-year-old former chief, but would put A.I.G. in line for a potential payout.
Yet such a move would almost certainly be widely seen as an audacious display of ingratitude. The action would also threaten to inflame tensions in Washington, where the company has become a byword for excessive risk-taking on Wall Street.
“The fact is we now have succeeded in getting the Fed back all of their money, and we’re just close to getting the Treasury paid back,” current AIG CEO Bob Benmosche said in an interview with New York’s Jessica Pressler before the bailout ended.
“And do you know, neither of them have ever said ‘Thank you’? We have done all the right things. Somebody should say, ‘By golly, those AIG people made a promise and they are living up to a promise!’ We’re left with a major part of the economy in America; they’re going to make a profit on top of everything else they’ve got,” he added.
And by “thanks,” Benmosche’s predecessor means “billions.”
“The government has been saying, ‘We’re your friend, we owned and controlled you and we let you go.’ But A.I.G. doesn’t owe loyalty to the government,” a source close to Greenberg told the Times. “It owes loyalty to its shareholders.”
Although the case was thrown out by a federal judge in New York, it has managed to make its way down to Washington.
The lawsuit “paints a portrait of government treachery worthy of an Oliver Stone movie,” said the New York judge, ruling that AIG “voluntarily accepted the hard terms offered by the one and only rescuer that stood between it and imminent bankruptcy.”
And what does AIG have to say for itself? “The AIG board of directors takes its fiduciary duties and business judgment responsibilities seriously.”
The company is expected to come to a decision on whether to join the suit by the end of the month.
“There is no merit to these allegations,” a spokesman for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said. “AIG’s board of directors had an alternative choice to borrowing from the Federal Reserve, and that choice was bankruptcy.”
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