Manhattan U.S. Attorney Announces Proposed Bankruptcy Court Settlement With Ambac For Over $100 Million To Resolve Credit Default Swap Contract Dispute Lawsuits
Ambac Also Agrees To Reduce Its Net Operating Losses By $1 Billion
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that a proposed settlement between the United States and AMBAC FINANCIAL GROUP, INC. (“AMBAC”), AMBAC ASSURANCE CORPORATION (“AAC”), the OFFICIAL COMMITTEE OF UNSECURED CREDITORS OF AMBAC FINANCIAL GROUP, INC., the SEGREGATED ACCOUNT OF AMBAC ASSURANCE CORPORATION (the “Segregated Account”), the REHABILITATOR OF THE SEGREGATED ACCOUNT, and the WISCONSIN OFFICE OF THE COMMISSIONER OF INSURANCE (“OCI”) was submitted to U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Shelley Chapman for approval. AMBAC, as debtor in a Chapter 11 proceeding pending in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York (“Bankruptcy Court”), yesterday filed a motion in that court seeking approval of a proposed settlement with the United States that would resolve a dispute arising out of the tax accounting methods used by AMBAC to account for the credit default swap (“CDS”) contract losses it purportedly sustained in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. If approved, the settlement will require AMBAC and AAC to pay the Government $101.9 million, with the possibility of future additional payments of up to $14.9 million. Under the proposed settlement, AMBAC also agrees to reduce its net operating losses attributable to the CDS contracts at issue by $1 billion.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “The proposed settlement reflects an extensive investigation into Ambac's reported financial losses and accounting methods in the wake of the financial crisis, and, if approved, will result in a significant recovery of Treasury funds. The settlement will also prevent Ambac from taking $1 billion in future offsets against its income and thus potentially reducing its tax burden by several hundred million dollars, a reduction to which it is not entitled.”
According to the allegations set forth in court filings submitted to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court and to the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York:
AMBAC is the New York-based holding company for the financial guaranty insurance company, AAC. Between 2005 and 2008, AAC entered into a number of CDS contracts with financial institution counterparties. Under the CDS contracts, AMBAC agreed to compensate the counterparties in the event of a loan default or other credit event related to their asset-backed securities investments in exchange for a periodic payment. Instead of reporting the income from the payments AMBAC received pursuant to the CDS contracts to the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) right away, AMBAC deferred the recognition of income until the end of the contracts, using the “wait and see” method of accounting for federal income tax purposes. Later, in the face of the economic downturn in 2008, AMBAC – without the consent of the IRS – then adopted an “impairment” method of accounting for its CDS losses on its federal income tax returns, which resulted in AMBAC reporting billions of dollars of CDS-related losses against its income between 2007 and 2009. AMBAC used the reported losses to obtain tentative tax refunds from the IRS of approximately $700 million, and sought to carry forward billions of dollars in additional losses to deduct against any income it would receive in the future. However, AMBAC was prohibited from changing its method of accounting for its CDS contracts because the accounting method AMBAC unilaterally changed to did not clearly reflect its income as required by law.
The proposed settlement would resolve more than two years of litigation related to AMBAC’s tax liabilities that had been proceeding simultaneously in the Bankruptcy Court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and the Wisconsin state courts. Under the terms of the proposed settlement, AMBAC and AAC will pay the Government $101.9 million and reduce the amount of CDS-related net operating losses that can be carried forward for future tax years by $1 billion. To the extent that AAC utilizes any of the remaining CDS-related net operating losses in the future, AMBAC would make additional payments to the Government of up to approximately $14.9 million.
Mr. Bharara also praised the work of the attorneys in the U.S. Department of Justice Tax Division who handled related litigation involving AAC in the District of Wisconsin and Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. DOJ Tax Division attorneys Robert Kovacev, Hilarie Snyder and Anthony Sheehan are in charge of the Wisconsin and Seventh Circuit cases.
In the Southern District of New York, the cases are being handled by the Tax and Bankruptcy Unit of the Office’s Civil Division. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Daniel P. Filor, Ellen London, and Carina H. Schoenberger are in charge of the litigation.