The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has vacated the criminal convictions of Gen Re and AIG executives stemming from a finite reinsurance transaction with undisclosed payments, which allegedly was intended to improve AIG’s financial statements without transferring any significant risk. A jury had convicted all of the defendants on all charges. The matter was remanded for a new trial. After hundreds of pages of briefing and numerous arguments of prosecutorial misconduct, erroneous evidentiary rulings and improper jury charges, the Court of Appeals found only two bases for vacating the convictions: (1) the admission of three bar charts which linked the decline in AIG’s stock price to the transaction at issue; and (2) a jury charge “that allowed the jury to convict without finding causation.”

The stock price evidence was interesting because the court found that “the charged offenses here do not require a showing of loss causation ….” Nevertheless, the prosecution sought to use causation evidence “to humanize its prosecution” and show that the transaction harmed AIG stockholders who had purchased AIG stock for their retirement accounts or the college funds of their children. The evidence presented the defendants with a dilemma: to allow the jury to attribute the full stock price decline to the transaction or introduce prejudicial evidence “of other besetting scandals, wrongdoing, and potentially illegal actions at AIG.” The defendants sought to sidestep the problem by stipulating to materiality, but the government refused. The court found that the district court’s admission of the charts was inconsistent with other rulings on the stock price issue, and was prejudicial to the defendants.

With respect to the jury charge issue, the court noted that the defendants did not specifically object to the causation instruction, which was the product of competing suggestions by counsel, but that the instruction nevertheless warranted reversal under the plain error rule, as it “is improbable, let alone ‘absolute[ly] certain[],’ that the jury based its verdict on a properly instructed ground.”

This opinion contains an extensive but relatively concise discussion of the finite reinsurance transaction at issue, and of the fact that low risk finite reinsurance transactions are acceptable, “and have their uses,” unless they violate FAS 113, the so-called 10-10 rule, entail no risk, and amount to fraud. The court described how this particular transaction was deliberately structured to conceal certain credits and repayments from the companies’ outside auditors. The court rejected all but two of the defendants’ numerous challenges, including allegations that one key prosecution witness had committed perjury, although it suggested that the government be circumspect about how his testimony is presented in a new trial. A major “take away” from this opinion is the clear holding that finite reinsurance transactions can be the basis for criminal convictions of the executives involved in such transactions. United States v. Ferguson, et al., No. 08-6211-CR (2d Cir. August 1, 2011).