AIG CEO apologizes for comparing bonus criticism to lynching

Robert Benmosche said the US government tried to incite outrage by attempting to curtail bonuses

Robert Benmosche, president and CEO of American International Group, participates in a Congressional Oversight Panel hearing on Capitol Hill, on May 26, 2010 in Washington DC.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The head of insurer American International Group, which was criticized for insuring risky loans that helped bring down the U.S. economy in 2008, apologized Tuesday for a "poor choice of words" on Tuesday after its CEO equated criticism of banker bonuses with the lynching of African-Americans.

The federal government's attempt to control bonuses at banks after the financial crisis "was intended to stir public anger, to get everybody out there with their pitchforks and their hangman nooses and all that -- sort of like what we did in the Deep South (decades ago)," Chief Executive Bob Benmosche was quoted as saying in an interview in The Wall Street Journal on Monday. "And I think it was just as bad and just as wrong."

His words provoked sharp criticism. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, called for Benmosche to resign.

"I find it unbelievably appalling that Mr. Benmosche equates the violent repression of the African-American people with congressional efforts to prevent the waste of taxpayer dollars," Cummings said in a statement.

Public reaction to Benmosche’s statement prompted an apology Tuesday.

"It was a poor choice of words," Benmosche said in a statement. "I never meant to offend anyone by it."

It's not the first time AIG has angered public officials.

Congressional leaders criticized AIG and other financial institutions for handing out bonuses during the financial crisis, despite a still-shaky economy and the institutions' own roles in causing the crisis.

Benmosche is eligible for $13 million in salary and bonuses this year, according to Bloomberg News.

Al Jazeera and Reuters

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