Investment guru Warren Buffett has agreed to meet with investigators probing deals between a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary and troubled...
WASHINGTON — Investment guru Warren Buffett has agreed to meet with investigators probing deals between a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary and troubled insurance giant American International Group (AIG), but a spokesman for New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said Buffett is not a target of the investigation.
The Omaha-based Berkshire Hathaway and its General Re insurance unit are cooperating with regulators. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the New York attorney general’s office, and the Justice Department are probing whether AIG improperly used certain reinsurance deals to make its financial statements look better. Gen Re has turned over documents and e-mails in response to investigators’ subpoenas.
In recent weeks, several Berkshire and Gen Re officials have voluntarily met with regulators. Buffett has agreed to answer questions about his knowledge of the deals, which date to late 2000, next month. The April 11 meeting was reported in yesterday’s editions of the Wall Street Journal.
“Buffett is a witness,” said Darren Dopp, a spokesman for Spitzer. “He is not a target, and his cooperation has been appreciated.”
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Yesterday, his company issued a statement saying assorted recent news reports describing Buffett’s role at the company and his conduct related to the AIG deals had been “inaccurately reported.”
“Mr. Buffett was not briefed on how the transactions were to be structured or on any improper use or purpose of the transactions,” a Berkshire release yesterday said of transactions in 2000 and 2001.
For months, investigators have examined the use of policies known as “finite risk” insurance.
The deals, which help insulate insurers from potentially burdensome claims by spreading risk, are not by themselves improper. But securities regulators say the transactions can be used to hide losses, inflate earnings or otherwise manipulate corporate financial statements by companies that use them for no real business purpose and with no real money at risk.
In those instances, accounting experts say, the policies really serve as disguised loans.
Regulators have focused much of their attention on a particular deal between AIG and Gen Re in late 2000. Under the terms of the deal, Gen Re paid AIG $500 million, which AIG added to its reserves in two installments in 2000 and early 2001.
The transaction allegedly helped keep AIG’s stock price high, they said.