AIG CEO Robert Benmosche

[CNN]

AIG CEO Robert Benmosche

AIG CEO Robert Benmosche says opposition to the insurer’s bonuses in the wake of the financial crisis five years ago was like lynchings during the battle over civil rights.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published Tuesday, Benmosche dismissed the criticism of bonuses saying the uproar “was intended to stir public anger, to get everybody out there with their pitch forks and their hangman nooses, and all that – sort of like what we did in the Deep South [decades ago]. And I think it was just as bad and just as wrong.”

He also said that there were “less than ten” AIG employees who were responsible for the bad trades that led to huge losses and a federal rescue of the company. Most of the employees who were receiving bonuses would have left the company had the bonuses been slashed, he said.

“We wouldn’t be here today had they not stayed and accepted … dramatically reduced pay,” he told the paper. “They really contributed an enormous amount [to AIG’s survival] and proved to the world they are good people. It is a shame we put them through that.”

Asked for a comment about the quotes, AIG released a statement from Benmosche saying, “It was a poor choice of words. I never meant to offend anyone by it.”

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