Here’s a point that’s worth remembering amid the furor over those AIG bonuses: law enforcement agencies on both sides of the Atlantic have begun investigations into the company in recent months — and those probes appear to be ongoing.
Last September, when the financial crisis began in earnest, following the collapse of Lehman Brothers, several news outlets reported (via Nexis) that the FBI had launched an investigation into potential fraud at four of the firms at the center of the collapse: Lehman, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac … and AIG. Subsequent reports have suggested that the AIG piece is focused on the financial products unit (AIGFP), where the losses that led to the firm’s collapse mostly occurred.
The FBI, in keeping with its usual practice, hasn’t said anything on the record about the investigation — and an agency spokesman wouldn’t confirm or deny its existence to TPMmuckraker today.
And last month, Britain’s Serious Fraud Office — in conjunction with the Financial Services Authority, the British counterpart to the SEC — announced (via Nexis) that it had launched its own probe of that same AIG unit, focusing on suspected illegal transactions there. AIGFP had offices Connecticut and London, but its CEO during the time at issue, Joseph Cassano, was based in London.
British authorities (who seem chattier than their US counterparts) said at the time that UK and US investigators were cooperating with each other.
So that also means that, as of late February, when the UK investigation was announced, the FBI probe into AIG was still active, at least as far as the British understood.
It’s by no means clear that either of these efforts will lead to charges. But given the basic shape of the river on AIGFP’s credit default swaps — in which, as Josh has written, the firm essentially offered to insure other parties’ mortgage assets, without enough collateral to make good on the deal — it doesn’t seem beyond the realm of possibility that fraud occurred.
And the possibility of criminal charges could give the federal government crucial leverage over AIG as it tries every means possible to get that bonus money back.
Late Update: ABC News reports that the American probe is looking into whether AIG intentionally misled investors and regulators by continuing to make optimisitc pronouncements about the firm’s health, even when they knew the company was in trouble.
In Securities and Exchange Commission filings, AIG acknowledges that it is under federal scrutiny for possible fraud, and notes that it is cooperating with the government’s probe.
Investigators are looking at statements from company leaders, who sometimes painted a sunny picture, even in the months and weeks before financial implosion.
FBI and SEC investigators are hunting for whistle-blowers and is (sic) subpoenaing company e-mails and internal documents to see if the facts match the company rhetoric.