Longtime AIG Chief Greenberg To Testify On Firm’s Collapse

Former AIG CEO Maurice “Hank” Greenberg will appear next week before a congressional committee probing the firm’s central role in causing the financial crisis, according to a committee staffer.

Greenberg — who had run AIG since 1968 before stepping down in 2005 — will be questioned by members of the House Oversight committee about the credit default swaps that led to his former firm’s collapse last year. “No one knows AIG better than Greenberg,” said the staffer. “He ran every minute detail of that company — nothing took place without his knowledge.”Although Greenberg’s forced departure from AIG, amid a major accounting scandal, took place more than three years before AIG’s collapse, it was he who took the fateful step of creating AIG’s Financial Products unit in 1987, to take advantage of AIG’s AAA credit rating by trading in complex derivatives. And Greenberg was still running AIG in 1998, when AIGFP, then led by Joe Cassano, began making credit default swaps — a practice which reportedly ended in late 2005, after Greenberg left. It was the unit’s exposure to those swaps would nonetheless came back to destroy it in the following years.

The committee staffer added that Greenberg, 83, will also be asked for his insights into the broader global financial crisis, and the government’s response to it.

Greenberg has been in a public spat with current CEO Ed Liddy over the question of his culpability for AIG’s fall. Liddy told Bloomberg News earlier this month, referring to Greenberg: “I think he’s responsible” for some of AIG’s struggles. “The formation of the AIGFP unit, which has literally brought us to our knees, that happened on his watch. The compensation systems that have gone astray, happened on his watch.”

In response, a Greenberg spokeswoman released a statement asserting that AIG’s losses
“never would have happened — and in fact did not happen,” while Greenberg was in charge. It added:

Under Mr. Greenberg’s leadership, AIG grew from a modest enterprise into the largest and most successful insurance company in the world. Its market capitalization increased approximately 40,000 percent between 1969, when AIG went public, and 2004, Mr. Greenberg’s last full year as chairman and CEO.

The combative World War II and Korea vet is also suing his former firm, claiming that misrepresentations about the company’s position caused him to buy shares at an inflated value as part of his deferred compensation plan.

The congressional hearing will take place April 2nd. The committee, chaired by Rep. Ed Towns (D-NY), has been investigating the causes of the financial crisis, and AIG’s role in causing it, since last fall, when the body was chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA).