Page last updated at 22:28 GMT, Tuesday, 24 March 2009

US wants power to seize insurers

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, left, talks with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke
Mr Bernanke and Mr Geithner have come under fire over AIG's bonuses

US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has called for the government to be given the power to take control of struggling non-bank financial firms.

Speaking before Congress, he said the administration was proposing a new law to bring the change into effect.

At present, federal authorities can seize control of troubled banks, but not other financial companies, such as insurance groups.

President Obama said he hoped Congress would back the planned legislation.

Looking ahead to next week's meeting of G20 leaders in London, Mr Obama also said on Tuesday that he wanted to see "bold, comprehensive and coordinated action" to help the global economy.

'Power grab'

Mr Geithner said he wanted to see the creation of a new regulator for non-bank financial firms modelled on the existing Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which has the power to take control of any lender.

Legal action could have thus have the perverse effect of doubling or tripling the financial benefits to the AIG-FP employees
Federal Reserve boss Ben Bernanke

However, with the exact details yet to be released, senior Republicans have already voiced their opposition, fearing that the treasury secretary himself may end up with the final decision on whether to take over any insurance company.

"This is an unprecedented grab of power, and before that occurs, there ought to be a real debate about whether we should give that authority to the Treasury Secretary," Mr Boehner, an Ohio Republican, told reporters.

Joined by Federal Reserve boss Ben Bernanke, Mr Geithner was speaking to the House of Representatives Financial Services Committee in the context of the government's financial bail-out of insurance giant AIG in September, which has cost $170bn (£121bn).

Mr Geithner said that AIG's troubles highlighted the need for a new regulatory authority to cover non-bank financial companies.

Bonus controversy

Federal Reserve boss Ben Bernanke told the committee that he had wanted to take legal action to stop insurer AIG paying millions of dollars of bonuses, but was advised against it.

Geithner: "It would have been catastrophic to let AIG collapse"

His comments come after AIG paid senior bosses a total of $165m on 15 March, a move that sparked widespread outrage in the US.

Nine of the 10 AIG executives who received top bonuses have since agreed to return them.

Mr Bernanke said it was "highly inappropriate" to pay substantial bonuses to employees at the AIG Financial Products (AIG-FP) division that was the primary source of AIG's collapse.

He said lawyers advised against legal action to prevent the payments, on the grounds that state law provided for substantial damages if the lawsuit failed.

"Legal action could have thus have the perverse effect of doubling or tripling the financial benefits to the AIG-FP employees," he said.

Mr Bernanke added that had AIG collapsed, it would have caused a 1930s-style global financial and economic meltdown.

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