New York’s top court has cleared the way for a civil trial of former AIG CEO Maurice “Hank” Greenberg and the company’s chief financial officer over allegations that they engineered a sham transaction more than a decade ago in order to make its financial statement look better.
The fraudulent reinsurance transactions date to 1999 and 2000 and involved GenRe, a Buffet company.
Greenberg argued in court papers that there was no admissible evidence that he orchestrated a $500 million transaction with reinsurer General Re Corp that misled AIG shareholders, and that the case should have ended in April when the state dropped a claim for as much as $6 billion in damages.
That was when a federal judge approved a $115 million settlement between AIG shareholders and Greenberg, Smith and other defendants over the alleged improper accounting.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who pursued the case even though two state governors asked him in May to drop it, withdrew the damage claims because of an unrelated 2008 Court of Appeals ruling.
That decision barred his office from seeking restitution on behalf of victims who settled a federal class-action, even if they were not made whole. The original suit, filed in 2005 by former New York attorney general and governor Eliot Spitzer sought more than $6 billion in damages.
The earlier agreements leave the fact that, even if Greenberg and Howard Smith, the former AIG CFO are found guilty, the most likely practical outcome would be barring them from participating in the securities industry and from serving as officers and directors of public companies.
That was stated specifically in a 7-0 decision by the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.
“There is no doubt room for argument about whether the lifetime bans that the attorney general proposes would be a justifiable exercise of a court’s discretion; but that question, as well as the availability of any other equitable relief that the attorney general may seek, must be decided by lower courts, in the first instance,” the decision said. “We have no difficulty in concluding that, in this civil case, there is evidence sufficient for trial that both Greenberg and Smith participated in a fraud. The credibility of their denials is for a fact-finder to decide.”