American International Group Inc (AIG.N) has sued the co-founder and former chief executive of its aircraft-leasing unit, Steven Udvar-Hazy, accusing him and other former employees of stealing several thousand electronic files containing trade secrets.
The civil lawsuit by AIG, the insurer bailed out by the U.S. government in the 2008 financial crisis, was filed in the California Superior Court in Los Angeles on Tuesday. It says Air Lease Corp (AL.N)'s Hazy initiated the "theft of a business."
Hazy, widely credited with founding the aircraft leasing industry, co-founded AIG's International Lease Finance Corp (ILFC) unit in 1973 and resigned to run Air Lease Corp (ALC) in February 2010, which he also started before leaving ILFC.
The lawsuit said Hazy and other former ILFC executives downloaded its files and "loaded en masse onto ALC's servers" confidential information.
In a statement, ALC said it would fight the lawsuit.
"Unable to compete effectively and perceiving Air Lease as a growing threat, AIG/ILFC has now resorted to a baseless trade secrets lawsuit that Air Lease will vigorously contest and defeat," the statement said.
Hazy took Air Lease public last week, raising more than $800 million. AIG has repeatedly signaled it may sell ILFC, but nobody so far has offered to pay what the insurer thinks it is worth. The now-public ALC could help value ILFC. [ID:nN19279835]
The lawsuit said AIG, which is 70 percent owned by the U.S. government, is seeking hundreds of millions of dollars or more from Air Lease Corp.
The complaint described how Hazy tried to buy all or part of the ILFC business, but when he did not succeed he left to start a new aircraft leasing company to compete with ILFC. It said he worked with ILFC executives to divert deals to the new company and then they resigned.
The lawsuit also said there were 30 people involved besides Hazy.
"Before resigning their employment, these former ILFC executives engaged in massive downloading and theft of ILFC's confidential trade secret information (several thousand electronic files)," the complaint said.
"These files were then loaded onto ALC's servers. Forensic analysis shows further that many of these files became the blue print for customer communications, contracts, pricing, marketing and other strategies upon which ALC built its business."
In a statement, AIG said it regretted having to file the lawsuit "but the defendants' misconduct left us no choice but to go to court to protect our rights and the rights of our shareholders, including our largest shareholder, the American taxpayer."
The case is American International Group Inc v Air Lease Corporation in the California State Superior Court, Los Angeles County No. 483370
(Reporting By Grant McCool; Editing by Paul Tait)