CHARLOTTE, N.C. American International Group Inc. may have agreed to take the U.S. government up on a two-year, $85 billion loan to help stave off bankruptcy, but now the nation's largest insurer faces an FBI investigation.
The news sent AIG shares down nearly 34 percent Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Utah Insurance Commissioner D. Kent Michie issued a news release to reassure Utahns that the insurance arm of AIG is financially "strong and solvent" and able to pay any policyholder claims.
Law enforcement officials said Tuesday that the FBI was investigating the New York-based insurer for potential fraud, as well as mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and investment bank Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.
The inquiries will focus on the financial institutions and the individuals who ran them, a senior law enforcement official said.
The law enforcement officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigations are ongoing and are in the very early stages.
Michie's release, issued Wednesday, said AIG's troubles are with AIG's non-insurance parent company, which is not regulated, while the insurance subsidiaries are state-regulated, "financially strong and able to pay their obligations." He cautioned that if Utahns replace or cancel a policy, they could face "heavy" costs and tax consequences.
Brad Tibbitts, director of the life, property and casualty insurance division of the Utah Insurance Department, said some news reports have portrayed all of AIG as being in trouble, but the insurance part of the company is solvent.
The department has been handling phone calls one life-division technician handled 30 to 40 in one day about the AIG solvency matter, he said. "One reason the commissioner wanted to get this information out to the public is so they will not be overly concerned over the issue of their insurance policy and whether they could depend on them (AIG insurance companies) to cover them in the event of a loss," Tibbitts said.
Michie and Tibbitts said regulators in other states have reported instances of agents from other companies telling people that AIG may not be able to pay claims.
"With agents, unfortunately, there are some out there that will play off of this, and some in other states are crying 'wolf' on this thing, and there really is no reason to at this point," Tibbitts said. "If there was anything that was putting our consumers in imminent danger, we would get information out about that right away."
Utahns with questions about the AIG situation may call the department's toll-free hotline at 1-800-439-3805.
The recent travails of AIG, Lehman Brothers, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac helped trigger the government's $700 billion bailout plan, which continued to be discussed Wednesday on Capitol Hill. Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, and the government has already taken over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
AIG spokesman Joseph Norton said Wednesday the company did not have details on the FBI investigation, but said "of course, we will cooperate."
All four companies saw their stock prices plummet this year, as they struggled to survive under the weight of mounting losses tied to bad bets on complex mortgage-related securities.
AIG shares tumbled $1.69, or 33.8 percent, to $3.31 in trading Wednesday. AIG had traded as high as $70.13 last October, at the beginning of the credit crisis.
Late Tuesday, AIG said it signed a definitive agreement with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York for the deal, which was hammered out last week. A final agreement could be filed as early by end of the week, Norton said.
The agreement provides a two-year, $85 billion emergency loan at an interest rate of about 11.5 percent to AIG, which teetered on the edge of failure because of stresses caused by the collapse of the subprime mortgage market and the credit crunch that ensued.
In return, the government will get a 79.9 percent stake in AIG.
The agreement leaves "AIG essentially nationalized," Bijan Moazami, an analyst at Friedman, Billings, Ramsey, wrote in a note to investors on Wednesday. "Shareholder efforts to prevent the government from taking an equity stake in AIG will prove fruitless."
Some of AIG's shareholders had wanted to help the company raise enough money to avoid taking the loan and ceding a majority stake in the company.
It wasn't immediately clear whether AIG's signing of the agreement ended any of those efforts.
A spokesman for AIG's largest individual shareholder, former Chief Executive Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, said Wednesday that Greenberg supported those efforts, but declined to comment further.AIG said Tuesday it will repay the government loan in full with proceeds from the sales of some of its assets. It will be up to the company to decide which assets to sell and the timing. The government does, however, have veto power.