The New York State Attorney General’s office has been on an over 10 year long jihad against former AIG CEO Maurice “Hank” Greenberg over alleged accounting fraud.

Though he now is age 90, Greenberg continues to fight

Standing on principle may be partly generational. Mr. Greenberg is one of a dwindling number of “the Greatest Generation,” as Tom Brokaw called World War II veterans who grew up during the Depression and fought “because it was the right thing to do.” Mr. Greenberg spent much of his childhood on a small farm in an impoverished area of the Catskills near Liberty, N.Y. His father died when he was 6, and his mother worked as a manicurist. At age 17, he dropped out of high school and lied about his age to enlist in the Army, where he learned “discipline, focus and loyalty,” Mr. Brokaw wrote in his 1998 best seller.

The ongoing trial has the bizzarre aspect that the AG’s office is trying to use Greenberg’s military service against him by claiming that the military precision with which he ran the company made him culpable for the acts of underlings. The Wall Street Journal reports:

The first weeks of Hank Greenberg’s trial suggest that, 11 years after then-New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer cried fraud and drove Mr. Greenberg out as CEO of AIG, prosecutors are still struggling to make a case.

The New York Attorney General’s office has been overruled on efforts to introduce hearsay evidence, as well as material irrelevant to the case. Prosecutors also struck out when they tried to have a lay witness offer opinions, a legal privilege reserved for experts. Without direct evidence that Mr. Greenberg committed fraud or told anyone to do so, the prosecution is attempting to make a circumstantial case that he was a control freak who therefore must have been responsible if anything improper occurred.

To buttress this narrative, the AG’s office has pointed to excerpts from a corporate memoir Mr. Greenberg co-authored in 2013. “Many of AIG’s senior managers were former U.S. military officers,” Mr. Greenberg and Lawrence Cunningham wrote. “The command-and-control hierarchy of military discipline, loyalty, and organization became part of AIG’s culture. Managers and employees assumed that corporate directives would be followed.”

What a destructive precedent it would set if courts decide that running a disciplined organization counts as evidence of complicity in allegedly illegal acts, whereas lax management is a liability shield on the assumption that weak executives don’t recognize wrongdoing.

In the course of the non-jury trial, the following sequence revealed that Greenberg remembers the precise date on which he visited Europe over 70 years ago:

The court: I have one question or a couple of questions to ask Mr. Greenberg. You said you visited Europe from England. Was that in 1944?

The witness: Yes.

The court: Do you recall the month?

The witness: June.

The court: You wouldn’t recall the day; would you?

The witness: 1944, June 6th.

That would be D-Day.

The Journal notes:

A note to the youngsters prosecuting Mr. Greenberg: That was D-Day. We’re guessing that the young staff sergeant who landed on Omaha Beach never dreamed that his military service would be used 72 years later as evidence against him. He probably had other things on his mind.


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