Icahn nods at Valeant interest, pushes for cash repatriation law

Billionaire activist-investor Carl Icahn gives an interview on FOX Business Network's Neil Cavuto show in New York February 11, 2014. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid (Reuters)

By Michael Flaherty

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Billionaire investor Carl Icahn made a cryptic reference suggesting he has an interest in embattled drug maker Valeant on Tuesday, and said he was speaking to U.S. politicians about a corporate cash repatriation law that would deter so-called tax inversion deals.

"I’m not in Valeant, well, I don’t want to say I’m not completely in it but I’m not going to tell you where I am with it," Icahn said, when asked about the company at the New York Times DealBook conference. He did not explain further.

Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc <VRX.TO> shares have plunged almost 40 percent since a scathing report last month by a short-seller alleged accounting improprieties in a network of specialty pharmacies.

Icahn said he was speaking to Wisconsin Republican Congressman Paul Ryan and New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer about a law that would encourage U.S. companies to repatriate cash from overseas, and would discourage the controversial practice of inversion, where a company strikes a merger deal to re-incorporate overseas and lower its tax rate.

Icahn said he supports Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, but said he would not be Treasury Secretary under him, as Trump has suggested. The activist investor said he never goes to Washington, but added that some of the politicians he speaks to are brighter than some of the chief executives he deals with.

Speaking on his latest corporate campaign, Icahn said he had been in touch with American International Group Inc <AIG.N> Chief Executive Peter Hancock and confirmed that the two would soon meet.

In a letter sent to AIG last week, Icahn said he wanted Hancock to spin off AIG's life and mortgage units into public companies, cut costs more aggressively and give back more cash to shareholders.

Hancock said on Tuesday that a split would drive up certain expenses and distract the company from cost-cutting, adding the amount AIG spent on U.S. regulatory compliance was a fraction of its total regulatory compliance costs around the world.

AIG is also taxed as a life and non-life insurer, which allows it foreign tax credits. Hancock had said in a letter to shareholders in 2014 that changes to this structure would mean forfeiting "significant economic benefit."

Icahn said on Tuesday he has agreed to hear what Hancock has to say, in a meeting that Hancock said will happen on Thursday.

(Reporting by Michael Flaherty; Additional reporting by Liana B. Baker; Editing by Bill Rigby)