Saturday, March 28, 2009

"Did AIG explicitly lie about its bonuses?"


One of the bizarre aspects of Secretary Geithner's claims not to have known about AIG bonuses until recently is that these bonuses have been the subject of intense controversy for months. Numerous members of Congress, such as Rep. Elijah Cummings, have been pressuring AIG since at least November, in the form of numerous letters, for details on AIG's retention bonus plan (more on that in a minute).

But this December 11, 2008 article -- from CBS News -- contains what seems to be a rather significant statement from AIG about its bonus plan:

Insurance giant AIG was given $152 billion in bailout money by the federal government since nearly collapsing in September. Now the company is planning to take millions of that money and hand it over to employees in a program that sounds a lot like bonuses. . . .

But so far, no one's stopping AIG from paying millions to some employees in its new retention program. The company has told 168 employees they'll receive between $92,500 and $4 million per individual if they stay with the company for one year. . . .

Nicholas Ashooh, AIG's senior vice president of communication, acknowledges that the perception of his company has taken a hit.

"Oh, it's terrible, it's terrible," he told CBS News.

Ashooh said the retention program does not include anyone in the firm's financial products business, the tiny arm of the company that torpedoed AIG with its high-risk, bad loans.

That AIG was scheduled to make millions of dollars in bonus payments has been public knowledge for many months -- since well before Geithner pressured Chris Dodd to insert an exception into executive compensation limits for already-existing employment contracts. But what is so notable here is AIG's express denial that "the retention program does not include anyone in the firm's financial products business," given what we now know is the truth:

[AIG's CEO Edward] Liddy gave skeptical committee members what amounted to a tutorial in the practice of paying retention bonuses -- he did not call them that -- to executives.

He said the money was offered to executives in AIG's financial products section, where risky investments finally became the entire company's undoing.


Retention pay was thrust into the executive-compensation debate with the disclosure by AIG that it paid $165 million to employees of its financial products division.

The unit made disastrous bets on securities known as credit-default swaps that ultimately led to billions in losses and necessitated a government bailout costing $170 billion to keep a failure of the company from bringing down the global financial system.

Assuming the CBS News story reported the comments of AIG's spokesperson accurately, this seems to be a rather flagrant case of AIG outright lying about what its retention bonus plan entailed.

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