When Companies (and Sometimes Individuals) Have to Give Back Money


2005-2-24

I'm Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Economics Report.

Financial news sometimes has words that seem out of place. Take aword like "disgorgement." It has a few different uses, but alldescribe much the same thing. For example, your stomach mightdisgorge some bad food you just ate. Trains disgorge passengers. Inthe business world, companies and individuals sometimes have todisgorge money.

The insurance broker Marsh and McLennan recently agreed to giveeight hundred fifty million dollars back to its customers. The NewYork state attorney general, Eliot Spitzer, negotiated the deal.Mister Spitzer accused Marsh of directing buyers to insurancecompanies from which it had received payments.

He said Marsh at times created the appearance of competition whenthere was none, so buyers ended up paying more for policies. As partof the deal, Marsh and McLennan apologized and agreed to change itsway of doing business to avoid conflicts of interest.

Another case brought by Mister Spitzer involves Richard Grasso,the former chairman of the New York Stock Exchange. Mister Grassoresigned in two thousand three over public criticism of his pay.Mister Spitzer wants the former chairman to return most of the onehundred forty million dollars he received.

Mister Spitzer notes a report written for the exchange by aformer government lawyer. That report became public this month. Itsays Mister Grasso had unfairly influenced and misled the officialswho supervised his pay. And it says his pay was unreasonable. MisterGrasso disagrees.

Another disgorgement case in the news involves a civil action bythe government against major cigarette makers. The JusticeDepartment brought the case in nineteen ninety-nine.

The government says tobacco companies including Philip Morris,part of the Altria Group, cooperated for illegal gain. It says theytried to hide the dangers of their products, and marketed tochildren. The government is seeking two hundred eighty thousandmillion dollars.

Earlier this month, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C.,ruled against the government. The court said the law used in thiscase does not require disgorgement of illegally received money.

The cigarette makers now argue that other measures sought by thegovernment are in conflict with that ruling. The government canappeal the ruling.

This VOA Special English Economics Report was written by MarioRitter. I'm Gwen Outen.