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AIG accuses founder of airplane lease business of pilfering clients

American International Group Inc. has filed a lawsuit against the founder of its airplane lease division for allegedly stealing company secrets to benefit his new, competing company. The litigation accuses the man and several former executives of downloading information from their computers for the benefit of the new business while still employees of International Lease Finance Corp., a unit of AIG.

Prior to AIG purchasing ILFC for $1.3 billion in 1990, it was an independent company led by its founder. ILFC was one of the first companies to lease planes to airlines. After he sold the company to AIG, the founder remained as president of the unit. But he opposed AIG's move to accept a federal bailout in 2008 after the recession badly damaged the insurance company.

The federal bailout meant that, as the primary shareholder, the government gained a great deal of oversight and influence into AIG's affairs, including ILFC. The founder tried to buy back the company from AIG but was unable to. He quit in February 2010 and founded a competing company called Air Lease.

Over the next several months, the defendant lured several ILFC executives to come work for his new company. The lawsuit claims that those executives downloaded some 13,000 company files onto thumb drives before resigning and took that data to Air Lease. The allegedly stolen files included information about the value of ILFC's fleets, past contracts and other sensitive information. AIG says that Air Lease used that data to gain an unfair edge in competing in the airplane lease market.

Air Lease calls the accusations groundless. They say that many of their clients went to the new company because of its founder's reputation after about 40 years in the business.

A news article about the litigation does not mention whether AIG has specified how much it is seeking in damages.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "AIG sues Air Lease, alleging theft of company secrets," W.J. Hennigan, April 25, 2012

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