AIG villain: I would have saved taxpayers money

By David Ellis, staff writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Joseph Cassano, the man who ran the business at the center of AIG's collapse, spoke unapologetically about his tenure during a hearing Wednesday, suggesting he could have perhaps helped save the insurance giant had he been allowed to stay on at AIG.

During during his testimony before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, his first public appearance since the fateful days of September 2008, Cassano detailed his efforts to keep the company's troubles in check as head of the firm's now infamous financial products division, which was the source of billions of dollars of losses for the firm.

joseph_cassano.03.jpg
Joseph Cassano, the former head of AIG's now infamous financial products division
AIG payouts: Who got what
Counterparties that got more than $1 billion from the government and AIG.
AIG counterparty Total payment
Societe Generale $16.5 billion
Goldman Sachs $14 billion
Deutsche Bank $8.5 billion
Merrill Lynch $6.2 billion
Calyon $4.3 billion
UBS $3.8 billion
Deutsche Zentral Genossenschaftsbank $1.8 billion
Barclays $1.5 billion
Bank of Montreal $1.4 billion
Royal Bank of Scotland $1.1 billion
Wachovia $1 billion
Source:Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Cassano said he was part of a decision to stop insuring subprime mortgage-backed investments in 2005, while he helped beat back aggressive demands for collateral made by Goldman Sachs and other financial firms.

He also cited his individual efforts to retain employees to help clean up the mess at AIG after the scope of the losses became apparent in November 2007.

He even went so far as to claim that he might have been able to help minimize the government's bailout of AIG. Part of the money spent to save the company was funneled to more than a dozen banks that had taken out insurance contracts against AIG defaulting on its debt.

"I think I would have negotiated a much better deal for taxpayers," said Cassano, who left the company in March 2008 after the insurer reported more than $11 billion in losses within his division for the fourth quarter of 2007.

Cassano also challenged other claims made about him and AIG during his appearance before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission Wednesday.

He suggested, for example, that AIG would have lost little money on collateralized debt obligations it insured had the government not intervened and placed them into two new companies.

Cassano also defended the remarks he made in 2007 that the insurer's portfolio of so-called credit default swaps would not produce significant losses.

"I meant exactly what I said in August 2007," he said in his prepared remarks, telling the commission that his financial products division was only insuring the highest-quality mortgages against default.

Losses related to credit default swaps deepened later that year before the company was brought to its knees following the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

On Sept. 16 of 2008, the government gave AIG what was originally an $85 billion bailout. That total has since risen to $182 billion.

Cassano has been viewed as one of the key figures that contributed to AIG's downfall and a villain of the entire financial meltdown, although he has been cleared of any wrongdoing in two separate federal investigations.

Earlier this month, he was absolved of any wrongdoing in a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into whether he may have potentially misled investors with his comments about the company's exposure to mortgage-related losses, according to news reports.

And in May, the Justice Department dropped its criminal investigation of Cassano, saying there was no evidence of any wrongdoing on his part.

Wednesday is the first of a two-day hearing the commission is hosting to explore the role of derivatives in the financial crisis, including that of credit default swaps and complex mortgage-backed investments called collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs.

"Hopefully in the next two days we will shine a light on this dark world of derivatives," said Phil Angelides, the former treasurer for the state of California and chairman of the FCIC, on Wednesday.

Complicated relationship for AIG and Goldman

Much of the focus, however, was on the dealings of AIG (AIG, Fortune 500) and Goldman Sachs (GS, Fortune 500), which was also a major player in the derivatives market.

Executives from both firms are due to testify over the next two days. Martin Sullivan, who served as AIG's CEO from March 2005 to June 2008 appeared alongside Cassano Wednesday. Gary Cohn, Goldman Sachs' chief operating officer, also appeared before the panel Wednesday afternoon.

The relationship between those two companies has been a complicated one.

AIG was a provider of insurance on financial instruments for Goldman Sachs and its clients. Goldman was among a group of 16 banks that ultimately got paid by AIG thanks to taxpayer aid that was earmarked to save AIG.

There have also been questions about whether AIG's troubles were exacerbated by Goldman's decision to enter into mortgage deals like the Abacus transaction which is at the center of a federal civil lawsuit now facing the investment bank. As losses mounted in mortgage-related investments, AIG eventually became overwhelmed by calls for collateral, ultimately leading to its bailout.

In his prepared testimony before the panel Wednesday, Cohn addressed some of that criticism.

"We spent a considerable sum of our shareholders' money to insure against the risk that AIG would not pay us in the event of a default," he said. To top of page

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