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AIG mulls joining lawsuit against U.S.

Shareholders say feds’ stake during bailout shorted them

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NEW YORK — American International Group Inc. said Tuesday its board of directors will weigh whether to take part in a shareholder lawsuit against the U.S. over the government's $182 billion bailout of the insurer.

If AIG decides to join the complaint, which seeks $25 billion in damages, it would pit the company against the government that rescued it in 2008 from collapsing under the weight of huge losses on mortgage-backed securities and other toxic assets.

AIG said that its directors will take up the matter on Wednesday and expects they will have a decision by the end of the month.

Starr International Co. Inc., the investment firm of former AIG CEO Maurice Greenberg, filed the lawsuit in November 2011 on behalf of the firm and AIG shareholders.

The complaint, filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, asserts that the government didn't provide shareholders fair compensation when it took a nearly 80 percent stake in the insurer as part of its bailout. As a result, the government violated the Constitution, Starr claims.

AIG said that, by law, its board must consider three options: take over the lawsuit and pursue the claims on its own; attempt to prevent the claims from being pursued by Starr; or allow Starr to continue to pursue the complaint on AIG's behalf.

The insurer noted that, should it elect not to let Starr pursue its claims on the company's behalf, Starr would likely challenge the move. In such a scenario, should Starr prevail in the case, AIG would not receive any damages or portion of a potential settlement.

The Court of Federal Claims denied a request by the U.S. to dismiss the lawsuit, which means the case will go forward regardless of AIG's participation.

The government came to the rescue of AIG in September 2008, at the depths of the financial meltdown. The New York company did business with hundreds of firms around the world, and officials feared its collapse would wreck the financial system.

All told, AIG's bailout was the largest of the Wall Street rescue packages.

Since the financial meltdown, AIG has undergone a significant restructuring, which has cut the size of the company nearly in half, aimed at focusing on its core insurance operations.

In 2010, the company spun off Asian life insurer AIA Group in Hong Kong's biggest-ever initial public offering to raise $20 billion, which was used to pay bailout debt.

In November, AIG reported a third-quarter profit of nearly $2 billion, thanks to strength in its insurance operations and investment returns. In the same period a year earlier, it lost $4 billion.

The Treasury Department announced last month that it sold all of its remaining shares of AIG, ending up with $22.7 billion more than it funneled to the company during the height of the financial crisis.

Shares of AIG ended regular trading down 28 cents at $35.65. Over the past 12 months, however, the stock is up more than 50 percent.

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