AIG mulls suit over bailout

FRESH from repaying a $US182 billion ($173 billion) bailout, the American International Group has been running a nationwide advertising campaign in the US with the tagline "thank you, America".

FRESH from repaying a $US182 billion ($173 billion) bailout, the American International Group has been running a nationwide advertising campaign in the US with the tagline "thank you, America".

But behind the scenes, the restored insurance company is weighing up whether to tell the US government agencies that rescued it during the financial crisis: thanks, but you cheated our shareholders.

The board of AIG is considering joining a $US25 billion shareholder lawsuit against the government, court records show.

The lawsuit does not argue that government help was not needed. It contends that the onerous nature of the rescue - the taking of what became a 92 per cent stake in the company, the deal's high interest rates and the funnelling of billions to the insurer's Wall Street clients - deprived shareholders of billions of dollars and violated the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits the taking of private property for "public use without just compensation".

Maurice Greenberg, AIG's former chief executive, who remains a major investor in the company, filed the lawsuit in 2011 on behalf of fellow shareholders. He has since urged AIG to join the case, a move that could nudge the government into settlement talks.

The choice is not a simple one for the insurer. Its board members, most of whom joined after the bailout, owe a duty to shareholders to consider the lawsuit. If the board does not give careful consideration to the case, Mr Greenberg could challenge its decision to abstain.

Should Mr Greenberg snare a major settlement without AIG, the company could face additional lawsuits from other shareholders. Suing the government would not only placate its former chief but also put AIG in line for a potential payout.

Yet such a move would almost certainly be seen as an audacious display of ingratitude. The action would also threaten to inflame tensions in Washington, where the company has become a byword for excessive risk-taking on Wall Street.

Some officials are already upset with the company for entertaining the lawsuit, people briefed on the matter said. They noted that without the bailout, AIG shareholders would have fared far worse in bankruptcy.

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