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17.03.2009 International

Obama 'outraged' at AIG bonuses

By BBC
Obama 'outraged' at AIG bonuses

US President Barack Obama has expressed anger at $165m (£116m) bonuses pledged to executives of bailed-out insurer AIG, calling the payments "an outrage".

"It's hard to understand how derivative traders at AIG warranted any bonuses, much less $165m in extra pay," he said.

He has told Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to "pursue every single legal avenue" to block the bonuses.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs later said AIG's next bailout payment could be altered to protect taxpayers.

He did not say how this could be achieved, but analysts say the government could reduce the payment - which is $30bn - by $165m, in order to force AIG to account for the bonuses in another way.

'Play by rules'
AIG announced the bonus payouts on Sunday.

In a speech which was intended to launch initiatives to help small businesses deal with the economic crisis, President Obama strongly criticised the company.

"All across the country, there are people who work hard and meet their responsibilities every day, without the benefit of government bailouts or multimillion-dollar bonuses," he said.

"And all they ask is that everyone, from Main Street to Wall Street to Washington, play by the same rules."

The $165m was payable to executives by Sunday and part of a larger total payout reportedly put at $450m.

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo now says he has issued legal papers demanding that AIG reveal the names of those receiving the bonuses - something which he says the firm has refused to do.

"When a company pays funds that the company effectively doesn't have, it's akin to a looting of a company," he said.

AIG has not yet commented on the legal move, but a spokeswoman said the firm was "in ongoing contact" with the attorney general.

'Outrageous'
AIG has received bailout payments from the US government totalling $180bn (£127bn) since coming close to collapse in 2008.

AIG boss Ed Liddy - who was installed by the government after the company got into trouble - earlier said the bonuses had to be paid to honour contracts signed before the financial crisis hit.

But Mr Liddy said bonuses for this year had been revamped and cut by as much as 30%.

However, such concessions have done little to appease angry senators.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said: "Did they enter into these contracts knowing full well that, as a practical matter, the taxpayers of the United States were going to be reimbursing their employees?

"Particularly employees who got them into this mess in the first place? I think it's an outrage."

Democrat Elijah Cummings was equally incensed: "It's like, OK, you got to help me screw you. And by the way I'm going to take your money and I'm going to slap you with it."

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