AIG finally names names

The insurer yields to congressional pressure to name the banks that have pocketed taxpayer funds in a massive bailout.

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By Colin Barr, senior writer


NEW YORK (Fortune) -- AIG gave in to demands from Congress Sunday, naming the banks that pocketed billions of dollars last fall as part of a federal bailout of the troubled insurer.

AIG, facing intensifying scrutiny of its pay practices and questions about whether taxpayer money has been well spent on its behalf, released a list Sunday afternoon of the firms that benefited from the government's efforts last year to prop up the New York-based company. The list is topped by numerous European institutions and two big Wall Street firms, Goldman Sachs (GS, Fortune 500) and Merrill Lynch (ML).

AIG, which has avoided bankruptcy only because of $170 billion worth of taxpayer funding, said it released the list of trading partners, along with the sums they received, because the company "recognizes the importance of upholding a high degree of transparency with respect to the use of public funds." AIG said it made the announcement after consulting with the Federal Reserve, which has led the bailout of the company.

Legislators have been asking since last fall for the names of the counterparties, contending that taxpayers have a right to know how their funds are being used. Fortune reported a partial list of the recipients earlier this month, though Sunday's disclosures are the first full accounting of which firms received funds and how much they got.

A top Fed official told Congress March 5 he didn't believe it would be helpful for the names of AIG's counterparties to be revealed, because doing so could cause companies doing business with AIG to back away from the company. The disclosures could also undermine confidence in the markets and reduce economic stability, Fed vice chairman Donald Kohn told the Senate Banking Committee in testimony March 5.

Kohn's stand drew fire from legislators such as Senate banking panel chairman Chris Dodd, D-Conn. He and other senators urged Kohn to consider the implications of spending billions of dollars of taxpayer funds without transparency.

"Public confidence in what we're doing is at stake, and the public right now is deeply deeply troubled," Dodd said at the hearing March 5. "I understand the legal arguments you've given me, but that kind of answer undermines public trust."

AIG said Sunday that it had consulted with the Fed "about the potential public benefit of counterparty disclosure and the potential that such disclosure would cause competitive harm to AIG or its counterparties."

At issue is which banks were made whole by federal funds extended to AIG in the name of unwinding its troubled credit default swap and securities lending businesses.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., sent a letter to Fed chief Ben Bernanke earlier this month requesting information about transactions last November in which the Federal Reserve Bank of New York agreed to lend $52.5 billion to two newly formed companies for the purpose of purchasing troubled debt linked to AIG.

One of those companies got $30 billion from the New York Fed for the purpose of buying so-called collateralized debt obligations, the bundles of risky debt sold on Wall Street. AIG had promised to make the CDO owners whole in case of any losses via the sale of credit default swaps.

The government agreed to buy the CDOs in hopes of unwinding the swaps, which became a massive cash drain at AIG after its credit ratings were downgraded last fall.

On Sunday, AIG named the banks that received collateral on AIG's credit default swap obligations as a result of the government's support of AIG, as well as those that received payments as a result of the government-backed CDO purchases and those that got funds in the unwinding of AIG's securities lending business.

The top recipients of CDS-related collateral were France's Societe Generale, with $4.1 billion, Germany's Deutsche Bank (DB), with $2.6 billion, and Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch of the United States, with $2.5 billion and $1.8 billion.

They were also the top recipients of payments under the CDO purchase program, with SocGen getting $6.9 billion, Goldman $5.6 billion, Merrill $3.1 billion and Deutsche Bank $2.8 billion.

The top beneficiaries of payments tied to the unwinding of the securities lending portfolio were Barclays (BCS) of the U.K., with $7 billion, Deutsche Bank, with $6.4 billion, BNP Paribas of France, with $4.9 billion, Goldman with $4.8 billion and Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) with $4.5 billion. To top of page

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