Thursday, April 17, 2008

Are Prosecutors Telling Warren Buffet How to Run His Company?

Posted by Dan Slater, LawBlog -
With Eliot Spitzer cast out of politics, do his prosecutorial tactics live on in U.S. Attorneys’ offices around the country?
According to the WSJ editorial board, the ousting of Gen Re CEO Joseph Brandon, whom prosecutors named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the fraudulent reinsurance transaction between Gen Re and AIG, is proof that they do.
Here’s the back-story: Last week, Law Blog colleagues Amir Efrati and Karen Richardson reported that federal prosecutors were pressuring the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett, the chairman of Gen Re parent Berkshire Hathaway, to replace Brandon after four Gen Re executives were found guilty in February for allegedly using reinsurance deals to inflate the reserves of AIG, Gen Re’s biggest client. After the trial, the prosecutors said they would “work up the ladder” to ferret out wrongdoing.
On Monday, Brandon was forced to resign, despite, according to the WSJ editorial board, being “a superb manager.” In his annual letter to shareholders two months ago, Buffett wrote, “Now, thanks to Joe Brandon . . . the luster of the company has been restored.” Buffett added that Brandon and President Tad Montross “have been running the business for six years and have been doing first-class business in a first-class way, to use the words of J. P. Morgan.”
But, regardless of Brandon’s track-record, his resignation, reports the editorial board, was a foregone conclusion. Fiduciary duty to Berkshire shareholders required Buffet to avoid a criminal indictment of Gen Re at any cost. And U.S. Attorneys can pressure companies to fire executives as a show of cooperation. Georgetown Law prof John Hasnas says prosecutors rarely if ever tell corporations to fire their target. But all they have to do is to suggest that they are considering whether to indict the corporation, and that the extent of their cooperation will be considered in the decision, and “the message gets across.”
“We have come to a strange pass in this country,” writes the editorial board, “when prosecutors who can’t prove their case can nonetheless tell Warren Buffett who can run his companies.”

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