WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. bailout watchdog has launched two new investigations into the New York Federal Reserve Bank’s actions on insurer AIG’s disclosure of payments to banks after its 2008 rescue, excerpts of prepared congressional testimony showed on Monday.
Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general of the Treasury’s $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, said he would launch a probe into whether there was any misconduct relating to public disclosure of the $62.1 billion paid to retire credit default swaps with banks.
Barofsky announced the investigation in excerpts of prepared testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The excerpts were obtained by Reuters.
Barofsky is among witnesses due to testify on the AIG matter before the panel on Wednesday.
Also appearing at the hearing will be U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who ran the New York Fed at the time of the American International Group bailout in 2008, and Thomas Baxter, the New York Fed’s general counsel.
Barofsky said he would also launch a second probe into the New York Fed’s level of cooperation with a prior audit conducted by his office into the AIG payments to U.S. and foreign-owned banks.
The probes follow the disclosure of email exchanges between Fed and AIG lawyers which some U.S. lawmakers say show pressure by the New York Fed under Geithner’s tenure to suppress information about the payments.
The payments for securities from a Fed rescue vehicle called Maiden Lane III have been labeled a “back-door bailout” for Goldman Sachs, Societe Generale, Deutsche Bank and other big global banks.
“As has been widely reported, these newly disclosed documents, among other things, relate to discussions about the public disclosure by AIG of the Maiden Lane III transactions in filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission,” Barofsky said in the testimony.
“In light of these documents, we have initiated an investigation in to whether there was any misconduct relating to the disclosure or lack thereof concerning the Maiden Lane III transactions,” he wrote.
The New York Fed has argued that it did not attempt to mislead the public about the AIG payments. But the bank did support AIG’s request to the SEC to keep secret some details about the individual transactions to acquire underlying assets to retire the derivatives and preserve their value for U.S. taxpayers.
The new probes are likely to keep attention focused on the AIG payments controversy, which has dogged Geithner for nearly his whole first year in charge of the Treasury. The New York Fed and the Treasury say he was never involved in decisions about AIG disclosures, and was recused from dealings with specific companies on November 24, 2008, when he was nominated for the Treasury job.
”If anyone at the Fed thought that this investigation will stop after Wednesday’s hearing, they are completely mistaken,“ said U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, the top Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.”
“There has been a widespread effort by officials at the NY Fed to thwart transparency and we will continue to pursue this investigation for as long as it takes to get the truth,” Issa added.
Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Neil Fullick