March 16, 2009 / 7:11 PM / 10 years ago

Treasury to rework AIG aid to recoup bonuses

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. government will modify a planned $30 billion capital injection for American International Group Inc to try to recoup hundreds of millions of dollars in controversial bonuses, a Treasury official said on Monday.

The American International Group (AIG) building in New York's financial district, March 16, 2009. U.S. President Barack Obama expressed outrage on Monday over hefty bonus payments awarded to employees of insurer AIG and said he directed his treasury secretary to take all legal measures to block them. Insurance giant AIG received some $173 billion in government bailout money and is now paying $165 million in employee bonuses. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Meanwhile, New York’s top legal officer vowed to take AIG to court if it did not provide full details of the bonus payments.

The U.S. government’s actions came after President Barack Obama expressed “outrage” on Monday over the bonuses to AIG employees, and ordered officials to take all legal measures to block them.

The Treasury Department plans to attach new provisions to the terms of its latest AIG rescue package, announced on March 2, to force repayment of the bonuses, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said he will subpoena the insurer for more information, including the names of those enriched by the bonuses, as taxpayers continue to pour billions of dollars into the insurer.

Obama said in remarks at the White House he was “choked up with anger” over the executive payments, which is a hot button issue in the deepening recession. ID:nN16328279

“How do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?,” said Obama.

The U.S. government has spent up to $180 billion in taxpayer money to bail out AIG, and the insurance giant continues to bleed red ink.

AIG said on Saturday its hands were tied contractually over $165 million in bonuses due to AIG employees on Sunday. Cuomo told reporters on a conference call on Monday that he believed the bonus payments were paid last Friday.

Chief Executive Edward Liddy told U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in a letter on Saturday the insurer was legally obligated to make 2008 employee retention payments, but had agreed to revamp its system for future bonuses after the Obama administration objected.

On Sunday, AIG disclosed that Goldman Sachs Group Inc and a parade of European banks were the major beneficiaries of $93 billion in payments — more than half of the U.S. taxpayer money spent to rescue the massive insurer.


Cuomo, who has been pressing troubled banks and financial institutions such as AIG since last October for details of their bonus payments, said he was probing whether the AIG payments are contractually required or can be voided under New York law.

“We need this information immediately in order to investigate and determine whether any of the individuals receiving such payments were involved in the conduct that led to AIG’s demise and subsequent bailout,” Cuomo wrote in a letter to Liddy.

Cuomo said his office is investigating whether any of the retention payments may be considered fraudulent conveyances under New York law, and threatened to drag AIG into court if it fought the subpoena.

“We are in ongoing contact with the attorney general and will respond appropriately to the subpoena,” said AIG spokeswoman Christina Pretto.

On Capitol Hill, members of both parties also voiced outrage at the AIG bonuses as a key committee prepared for a previously scheduled hearing with CEO Liddy.

The House of Representatives Financial Services Committee intended to ask Liddy about the bailout on Wednesday. But now it will also examine — at the direction of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — if there is a way to recover bonus payments.

One legal expert said that moral pressure might work at the executive level to rescind bonuses, but not lower down the ranks. Some top executives at various companies have said they will take little or no pay this year.

“The executive officers are more likely to respond to moral suasion,” said Claudia Allen, chair of corporate governance practice group at Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP in Chicago. “When you move beyond the executive suite, it’s not so certain how moral suasion is going to work.”

In early 2008, under former CEO Martin Sullivan, AIG agreed to pay certain employees of AIG Financial Products retention bonuses totaling $450 million. Nearly one-half of that has now been paid, with $55 million paid in December and another $165 million on or before last Sunday’s deadline.

The plan covered about 400 employees, about 30 of which no longer work for the company.

President Barack Obama speaks at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, March 16, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Reed

The payments to AIG counterparties, such as European banks Societe Generale, Barclays Plc and Deutsche Bank AG as well as Goldman, included the provision of collateral to back up credit default swaps, a form of financial insurance, and cover on other structured products.

Through various transactions, Goldman received an aggregate $12.9 billion, while SocGen received $11.9 billion, Deutsche got $11.8 billion and Barclays was paid $8.5 billion.

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