SEC Charges Hank Greenberg on AIG Accounting Violations

You mean we had to bail out AIG because Hank Greenberg was making misrepresentations about the company’s profits that enabled it to keep blowing up the bubble?

The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged former American International Group Chairman and CEO Maurice "Hank" Greenberg and former Vice Chairman and CFO Howard Smith for their involvement in numerous improper accounting transactions that inflated AIG’s reported financial results between 2000 and 2005. The SEC alleges that Greenberg and Smith are liable as control persons for AIG’s violations of the antifraud and other provisions of the securities laws. Smith also is charged with direct violations of the antifraud and other provisions of the securities laws.

The SEC alleges that Greenberg and Smith were responsible for material misstatements that enabled AIG to create the false impression that the company consistently met or exceeded key earnings and growth targets. According to the SEC’s complaint, Greenberg publicly described AIG as the leader in the insurance and financial services industry with a history of delivering consistent double-digit growth. However, AIG faced numerous financial challenges under Greenberg’s leadership that were disguised through improper accounting.


The SEC’s complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, charges the defendants with responsibility for the following improper accounting transactions:

  • Sham reinsurance transactions to make it appear that AIG had legitimately increased its general loss reserves.

  • A purported deal with an offshore shell entity to conceal multi-million dollar underwriting losses from AIG’s auto-warranty insurance business.

  • Economically senseless round-trip transactions to report improper gains in investment income.

  • The purported sale of tax exempt municipal bonds owned by AIG’s subsidiaries to trusts that AIG controlled in order to improperly recognize realized capital gains.

And do you want to guess how much a first-hand role in the bubble costs a gazillionaire? $15 million.

Greenberg and Smith agreed to settle the SEC’s charges and pay disgorgement and penalties totaling $15 million and $1.5 million, respectively.

Hmmm. Greenberg pays $15 million, taxpayers pay over a hundred billion, and Eliot Spitzer remains sidelined because he (admittedly, utterly hypocritically) slept with a high priced sex worker.

Does This Explain DOJ Reluctance to Turn Over AIG Monitoring Documents?

TPMM has two posts noting that DOJ has been reluctant to turn over to the Oversight Committee the documents pertaining to its Delayed Prosecution Agreement with AIG, whereas SEC has been more forthcoming.

Last month, as we noted at the time, House Oversight committee chair Ed Towns formally asked the Justice Department for records kept by a government monitor, who since 2004 has had access to high-level internal deliberations at AIG.

But DOJ seems to be dragging its heels.

Today — 15 days after Towns made his legally binding request, and 13 days after the deadline he set for Justice to respond — department spokesman Ian McCaleb told TPMmuckraker: "We’re working on submitting a response." Asked what was causing the hold up, McCaleb declined to elaborate.

At issue is information compiled by James Cole, a lawyer with Bryan Cave, who was placed as a government monitor inside AIG, as part of a 2004 deferred prosecution agreement after AIG had been charged with helping clients avoid taxes. As Towns put it in his letter, Cole "had a seat at the table" for the string of cataclysmic developments at AIG over the last few years. Whatever reports or other information he compiled could therefore be of great value to investigators, like Towns, who are probing the causes of last fall’s financial collapse, which was triggered by the failure of AIG’s Financial Products unit.

There are a couple of data points that might begin to explain DOJ’s reluctance to turn over what it has received from Cole.

First, DOJ signed not one, but two deferred prosecution agreements with AIG. The first, in 2004, pertained to a scheme AIG-FP engaged in with PNC to shift assets off its books. The second, in 2006, pertained to a deal with Gen Re, again to shift assets around to hide risk. Now, both these schemes go back to 2000 and 2001; the actions AIG took did not take place while Cole was monitoring it. Nevertheless, AIG got two bites at the Delayed Prosecution Agreement, which does not appear to be true for any other corporations as of May of last year.  And, as this article on these early scams make clear, the intent was largely the same with both: to hide risk. So you might think AIG’s failure to admit to the second scheme until 2005 would undermine its claim to be cooperating in good faith with the DPA in 2004.

More interesting, though, is the squabble that the Fraud section at DOJ had with the US Attorney’s office in CT a few weeks back.  Read more

Hank Greenberg Sorta Liveblog

For reasons I explained here, I’m not going to do a full liveblog of Hank Greenberg’s appearance before Oversight today, though will keep half an eye on it. If you want to follow along, it’s on CSPAN3 and this Committee stream (which I can’t get to work).

Most interesting detail, thus far, is that Issa insisted that Greenberg’s lawyer be sworn in, as well as Greenberg. 

Greenberg’s complaining that by nationalizing AIG, it chased employees away. He’s saying it needs a new management team with experience in insurance (as if Edward Liddy doesn’t have insurance experience), emphasizing that said management team needed an internationalist focus, bc that’s what AIG is involved in. He’s arguing too that the govt should just limit its ownership to 15% so that private investors will get involved. He did say that AIGFP should be walled off–that’s a stance I suspect is smart.

Issa just asked Greenberg about the Ferguson case (involving Gen Re) in Connecticut, suggesting Greenberg was an unindicted co-conspirator. Greenberg’s name is all over that, but his lawyer wants to claim he was never tied to that. Also, apparently Greenberg has received a Wells Notice from the SEC. His lawyer didn’t explain what the Wells Notice pertained to.

Hank says to Kanjorski that he is a big fan of transparency. Issa takes that opportunity to introduce an SEC settlement showing that under Hank AIG was engaged in sham reinsurance schemes (this is the Gen Re thing). 

Lynch: The Maiden Lane CDS "are in the toilet."

Hank: Maiden Lane III terrible deal for the taxpayer. Purchased at par, even though the marks on those CDOs way down. 

Hank trying to assure Lynch that it was just chance that they picked OTS as regulator, rather than someone tougher. 

Patrick Kennedy just said he’s going to submit a bill to repeal the repeal of Glass-Steagall!!!

Hank had several conversations with Baxter NYF President, and two conversations with Geithner.

Hank’s Dog and Pony Show

Hank Greenberg will testify before the House Oversight Committee about the AIG collapse today at 10 AM.

I’m uncertain that it’ll be useful in unpacking what happened with AIG at all. If Greenberg’s planned testimony from last fall is any indication (he called in sick for an October 7 AIG hearing, but had already submitted his testimony), he will say that the CDS before he left were hedged properly, not in subprime mortgages, and watched closely by management (that is, by him); but all that changed after he was forced out.  

AIG’s strategy, accordingly, was to look for opportunities in businesses that benefitted from its AAA rating, strong capital base, risk management skills, as well as the intellectual capital needed to manage such diversification.

That led to the creation of AIGFP in 1987. At that time, the derivative market was small and growing. From the beginning, AIG’s policy was that AIGFP conduct its business on a "hedged" basis – that is, its net profit should stem from the differences between the profit earned from the client and the cost of offsetting or hedging the risk in the market. AIGFP would therefore not be exposed to directional changes in the fixed income, foreign exchange or equity markets.

AIGFP, at that time, reported directly to me and Ed Matthews, Senior Vice Chairman, and later to William Dooley, Senior Vice President, supported by AIG’s credit risk and market risk departments. When I was AIG’s CEO, AIG management closely monitored AIGFP and its risk portfolio. AIGFP was subject to numerous internal risk controls, including credit risk monitoring by several independent units of AIG, review of AIGFP transactions by outside auditors and consultants, and scrutiny by AIGFP’s and AIG’s Boards of Directors. Every new type of transaction or any transaction of size, including most credit default swaps, had to pass review by AIG’s Chief Credit Officer.


AIGFP reportedly wrote as many credit default swaps on collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs, in the nine months following my departure as it had written in the entire previous seven years combined.

Moreover, unlike what had been true during my tenure, the majority of the credit default swaps that AIGFP wrote in the nine months after I retired were reportedly exposed to sub-prime mortgages. By contrast, only a handful of the credit default swaps written over the entire prior seven years had any sub-prime exposure at all.

Read more