UPDATE: The WSJ now says it's $450 million in bonuses.
Yes, I get the argument. Derivatives are complex, and maybe we can't wait for someone new to get up to speed. But what this really boils down to is extortion. They're claiming they can't legally breach the contract? I thought that's what bankruptcy is for! They think we'll knuckle under to blackmail from the same geniuses who got us into this mess?
Insurance giant American International Group will award hundreds of millions of dollars in employee bonuses and retention pay despite a confrontation Wednesday between the chief executive and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner.
But the company agreed to revise some executive payments after what AIG's leader, Edward M. Liddy, called a "difficult" conversation.
The bonuses and other payments have been exasperating government officials, who have committed $170 billion to keep the company afloat -- far more than has been offered to any other financial firm.
The issue came to a head when Geithner called Liddy and told him the payments were unacceptable and had to be renegotiated, said an administration official who was not authorized to comment on the Geithner conversation.
In a letter to Geithner yesterday, Liddy agreed to restructure some of the payments. But Liddy said he had "grave concerns" about the impact on the firm's ability to retain talented staff "if employees believe that their compensation is subject to continued and arbitrary adjustment by the U.S. Treasury."
Lawyers at both the Treasury Department and AIG have concluded that the firm would risk a lawsuit if it scrapped the retention payments at the AIG Financial Products subsidiary, whose troublesome derivative trading nearly sank AIG. The company promised before the government started bailing out the firm in September that employees would be awarded more than $400 million in retention pay this year and next.
"I do not like these arrangements and find it distasteful and difficult to recommend to you that we must proceed with them," Liddy wrote.
At the same time, the company said in documents provided to the Treasury, any steps that encourage specialists at AIG Financial Products to leave could open the U.S. government to further risk because of the hazards still posed by the $1.6 trillion portfolio of complex derivatives those employees are working to dispose.