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AIG might join shareholder suit against U.S. over its bailout

| Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, 6:06 p.m.

WASHINGTON — At the same time American International Group Inc. has been running high-profile ads thanking America for the bailout that saved the company, the insurance giant reportedly is considering joining a shareholder suit against the government for the rescue.

The AIG board will meet Wednesday and could decide to join a $25 billion suit led by former chief executive Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, the New York Times reported.

The suit by Greenberg's Starr International Co. alleges that the 2008 bailout of AIG by the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve Bank of New York in which the government received an 80 percent ownership stake in the company violated the rights of shareholders. The ownership stake later climbed to 92 percent.

The suit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington alleges that the bailout cost shareholders billions of dollars and violated the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits the taking of private property for public use “without just compensation.”

A similar suit against the New York Fed was thrown out by a New York federal judge in November.

But Judge Thomas Wheeler of the Court of Federal Claims had ruled in September that Greenberg's case could go forward.

A court filing said the AIG board expected to make a decision by the end of January.

An AIG spokesman declined to comment Tuesday. A Treasury Department spokesman also would not comment.

But U.S. officials would not be pleased if AIG joined the suit.

The company received the single largest bailout of the financial crisis, leaving the government on the hook for more than $182 billion.

AIG ended up taking about $125 billion in the complex, multistep bailout. In the process, the company became the poster child for reckless risk-taking on Wall Street and the focal point for anger by the public and lawmakers over the unprecedented government intervention to save the financial system.

In December, the government sold the last of its stake in AIG. The bailout formally ended with the taxpayers earning a $22.7 billion profit, though critics noted there were additional, incalculable costs, such as a loss of public confidence in the financial system and a precedent for rescuing too-big-to-fail financial firms.

AIG has been touting the end of the bailout with print, TV and online ads titled “Thank You America.”

The ads, which have aired in recent weeks during college football bowl games and National Football League playoff games, note the company “repaid every dollar America lent us.”

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