AIG vs. Goldman: Insurer May Match SEC's Fraud Suit Against Bank

You may recall that back in the good old days, American International Group (AIG) paid Goldman Sachs (GS) $12.9 billion of taxpayer money in a 100-cents-on-the-dollar settlement of credit default swaps that AIG had written. Now, according to a report in the Financial Times, AIG is hoping to piggyback on the SEC's fraud case against Goldman to get $2 billion back from the investment bank. Missing from the article is any evidence that AIG has a case for charging Goldman with fraud, but its willingness to fight for money in court is a sign that the old AIG is back.

According to the Financial Times, AIG may sue Goldman -- whose earnings rose 91% to nearly $3.5 billion in the first quarter -- for $2 billion in losses it took insuring $6 billion worth of Goldman deals involving collateralized debt obligations similar to the ones in the Abacus family, over which the SEC is suing the investment bank.

When I worked in the insurance industry in the early 1990s, AIG had a reputation for being eager to get paid by its customers, and for always being willing to use whatever legal means were available to avoid paying claims when its customers believed they were due. So it doesn't surprise me that AIG is considering appealing to the courts to boost its bottom line.

Unfortunately for AIG, it had to suspend its urge to litigate after it took $182.3 billion in taxpayer money to stay afloat back in September 2008. Later that year, AIG became a silent pass-through for bailing out Goldman, among other firms, when the U.S. government funneled $62 billion of taxpayers' money through it to a bevy of U.S. and European banks to settle their credit default swap claims against AIG at 100 cents on the dollar -- something that AIG would normally have fought hard against.

Bush administration Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and current Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (who ran the New York Fed at the time) later tried to cover up the names of the recipients of this taxpayer largesse.

But now AIG is getting back to its old self. It loves to litigate, and sees an opportunity to get back some of its money. It's too early to tell whether AIG has a case, but I would be happy to see it recover enough to pay back everything that U.S. taxpayers have funneled into it. And if Goldman ends up footing part of that bill, it couldn't happen to a nicer firm.