AIG exec charged in Azerbaijan scam

Oct 10, 2005 @ 12:01 am

By Frederick P. Gabriel Jr.

Great. Add Azerbaijan to the list of countries where we are known as "ugly Americans."

David Pinkerton, a managing director in the global investment group at New York's American International Group Inc., was one of three men indicted on Thursday for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. They allegedly tried to bribe top officials in the oil-rich country to privatize Azerbaijan's oil company.

"The case that we bring today involves nothing less than the brazen attempt to steal the wealth of a sovereign nation," Michael J. Garcia, U.S. attorney in Man- hattan, reportedly said at a news conference.

Mr. Garcia said hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes were promised and tens of millions of dollars actually were paid in the scheme that ran from August 1997 until about 1999. No charges were brought against AIG itself, and Mr. Pinkerton was placed on administrative leave from the company until the matter is resolved.

Katrina still roars

Thanks in part to Hurricane Katrina, 35,000 jobs were lost in the United States in September, marking the first month in which there were job losses since May 2003.

As a result, the national unemployment rate jumped to 5.1% last month, up from 4.9% in August, according to a Department of Labor report on Friday. The good news is that Wall Street economists had been predicting a higher job loss total of 143,000.

The government said, if not for Katrina, the September payroll growth likely would have been in line with the 194,000 jobs a month that on average have been created over the past year.

Meanwhile, the government's estimates for job growth in July and August were revised upward by a total of 77,000.

"Take a look also at July and August - big upward revisions. All of a sudden, if [Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan] Greenspan is right and you come out of hurricanes the same way you go in, then we went in a lot stronger than we thought, and we'll come out a lot stronger than we thought," economist Chris Low at FTN Financial in New York reportedly said.

Staying power

Forget astronomic gasoline prices. Never mind one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the United States. You can even ignore the crisis we now are seeing in consumer confidence. Most investors in the stock market are sticking it out, and as a result, many mutual funds performed admirably, according to press reports on Tuesday.

For the third quarter, the average U.S. diversified equity fund rose 4.7%, slightly more than the 3.5% gain posted by the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index, according to New York-based fund tracker Lipper Inc. Among sector funds, the natural resources group led the pack, rising 22.3% for the quarter, said Lipper.

Try, try again

Talk about not taking "no" for an answer. TIAA-CREF is considering plans to hold a second vote on a proposal to nearly quadruple fees on many of its institutional mutual funds.

The move would come after shareholders in August rejected the company's fee hike proposal. "After weighing the options, it has become clear that the best alternative for shareholders and the one that would cause the least disruption" would be a new vote, TIAA-CREF spokeswoman Stephanie Cohen Glass reportedly said.

Previously, TIAA-CREF said failure to get a thumbs up from shareholders likely would force the company to close the funds to new investments or liquidate them entirely.

Of course, some people think TIAA-CREF should accept the fact that no means no. "The message would be clear that they want to defy shareholders' wishes," Christopher Davis, a mutual fund analyst at Morningstar Inc. of Chicago, reportedly said.

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