U.S. judge approves $72 million settlement with Berkshire's Gen Re

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Tuesday approved a $72 million settlement to resolve shareholder claims that Berkshire Hathaway Inc's BRKa.N General Re Corp engaged in a sham deal that helped inflate American International Group Inc's AIG.N reserves.

Approval of the settlement brings to an end nine years of shareholder litigation surrounding AIG’s accounting practices and brings the total of approved settlements to more than $1 billion.

U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts, who approved the settlement at a hearing in Manhattan, said the accord was a “long time coming” and would close out the AIG litigation before her.

“I’m sorry to see it end, but not that sorry,” she said.

In April, Batts approved a related $115 million settlement with former AIG CEO Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, three other executives and two of Greenberg’s companies.

Before that she signed off on a $725 million settlement with AIG and a $97.5 million accord with accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers PWC.UL.

Batts initially in 2010 declined to preliminarily approve the Gen Re settlement, instead dismissing claims against the company, but the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York reversed her in August 2012.

The lawsuit, led by two Ohio state pension funds, alleged that AIG and Gen Re violated federal securities laws through a $500 million reinsurance transaction in 2000 that boosted AIG’s loss reserves and artificially increased its share price.

The events took place years before AIG received $182 billion in taxpayer bailouts during the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009.

In making the settlement, Gen Re did not admit liability or wrongdoing. Representatives for the company did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

The alleged sham transaction was at the center of a criminal case against four former Gen Re executives and one AIG executive who were convicted in 2008 on fraud charges.

A federal appeals court reversed their convictions in 2011. The five subsequently admitted to conducting the fraudulent reinsurance transaction as part of a deferred prosecution agreement in June 2012.

The executives were former Gen Re Chief Executive Ronald Ferguson, Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Monrad, Senior Vice President Christopher Garand and Assistant General Counsel Robert Graham, as well as former AIG Vice President Christian Milton.

In 2010, Gen Re agreed to pay $92.2 million to settle U.S. government claims that it helped AIG manipulate its financial statements.

AIG itself meanwhile paid $1.6 billion to resolve various regulatory investigations of accounting fraud.

Greenberg and former AIG Chief Financial Officer Howard Smith paid $16.5 million to resolve related claims by the SEC. A related civil fraud lawsuit against the two men being pursued by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman remains pending.

The Gen Re settlement approved Tuesday covers claims by AIG shareholders who bought stock from October 1999 to April 2005, as well as people who held stock of HSB Group Inc at the time AIG bought it in 2000. (AIG sold HSB in 2009 to Munich Reinsurance Co.)

Batts also approved $6.5 million in fees for plaintiffs’ lawyers led by the law firms Labaton Sucharow and Hahn Loeser & Parks, below their initial request for $9.47 million, as well as $525,000 in expenses.

The case is In re American International Group Inc Securities Litigation, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 04-08141.

Reporting by Nate Raymond