New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said he disagrees with former CEO Maurice Greenberg’s attorney that accounting mistakes at American International Group were insignificant in their impact.
Spitzer also clarified that billionaire investor Warren Buffett is only a witness in the ongoing AIG probe and not the subject of any probe. He praised Buffett as an “icon” who has “succeeded the right way.”
Buffett is scheduled to meet with Spitzer’s assistants and officials from the Securities and Exchange Commission today, April 11. Spitzer said Buffett may be able to “shed some light” on transactions that took place between AIG and General Reinsurance, which is owned by Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. Greenberg is scheduled to be interviewed tomorrow.
Speaking on the ABC-TV program, This Week, hosted by George Stephanopoulos, Spitzer said, “There are some ambiguities that will be hopefully addressed in our discussion with Mr. Buffett.”
Spitzer added, “He is a witness in our view, and the focus of this investigation is AIG and the much broader reach of the offshore entities that AIG has created that we believe were, in many respects, fraudulent.”
Spitzer, the New York State Insurance Department and the SEC have been investigating AIG’s accounting practices primarily related to a reinsurance transaction with General Reinsurance and dealings with other offshore reinsurance companies. AIG’s relationship with Starr International Co. is also under scrutiny.
AIG has acknowledged that the accounting of a 2000 General Re reinsurance purchase was improper and that it and other reinsurance deals may have misrepresented AIG’s net worth by as much as $1.7 billion over 14 years. AIG admitted that the General Re transaction added $500 million to its premiums and reserves for claims. It unwound $250 million of the deal last year’s fourth quarter. Its 2004 annual statement has twice been delayed while it pursues internal probes.
The New York Times reported on April 8 that attorneys at Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway discovered that some documents regarding the 2000 General Re-AIG transaction had been altered.
Former AIG Chairman Greenberg, who resigned in the middle of internal and external investigations, thought the General Re transaction was legal and proper, according to his attorney.
“What you’re talking about is something that has a very slight impact on the numbers, even if you conclude that the accounting is wrong,” said David Boies, Greenberg’s attorney, in a recent interview on the Charlie Rose show on PBS. “It’s not something that goes to the integrity either of the company or the man,” Boies maintained.
“It’s not fraud,” Boies told Rose.
Asked on ABC about the comments from Boies, Spitzer offered a different view.
“Well, obviously I disagree with that,” Spitzer said. “The evidence is overwhelming that these were transactions created for the purpose of deceiving the market. We call that fraud. It is deceptive. It is wrong. It is illegal.”
While Spitzer has previously indicated that a civil resolution rather than a criminal charge is likely regarding AIG as a corporation, he would not offer that assurance regarding Greenberg. “We have powerful evidence. We will proceed with it. It could be civil. It could be criminal,” he told ABC.
While he criticized AIG, Spitzer had kind words for Buffett. “Warren Buffett is an icon. He has succeeded the right way. He stands for smart, long-term investing, transparency, accountability all those things we value and support,” he said of the Berkshire Hathaway chief.