GE squelches Welch

NBC pop cooperates with SEC, drops some perks

WASHINGTON — Peacock parent General Electric said Monday it’s cooperating with a Securities and Exchange Commission inquiry into company founder Jack Welch’s retirement package. GE added that Welch has asked that some of the perks be permanently parked.

GE was notified of the SEC investigation at the close of business Friday, one day after the conglom’s board of directors approved Welch’s request to modify his post-retirement benefits, which included free use of company jets and an apartment in Gotham. Under the slimmed-down agreement, the corporate icon will receive only an office and administrative support.

In its statement, GE characterized the SEC inquiry as “informal,” and reminded that the details of Welch’s post-retirement package, decided upon in 1996, are on public file at the SEC. Welch retired last year.

“GE believes it has complied with disclosure requirements regarding Mr. Welch’s benefits,” company said.

Washington is bearing down hard on corporate America in the wake of the Enron, WorldCom and Adelphia meltdowns, trying to prove that it isn’t asleep at the wheel.

Perks defended

In a guest column appearing Monday in the Wall Street Journal, Welch said he would reimburse the company an estimated $2 million to $2.5 million for using GE planes and apartment since he retired in September 2001.

Still, Welch defended the free plane rides and apartment, saying he had received the benefits in lieu of millions of dollars in cash compensation offered during his reign.

Welch said he asked for the modifications because he didn’t want the company dragged into an acrimonious divorce fight. His estranged wife, Jane B. Welch, revealed the details of Welch’s retirement perks last week.

“In these times when public confidence and trust have been shaken, I’ve learned the hard way that perception matters more than ever,” Welch wrote. “In this environment, I don’t want a great company with the highest integrity dragged into a public fight because of my divorce proceedings.”

Welch said some of the perks described by his estranged wife were “grossly misrepresented.” In her court filing, Welch’s wife alleged that GE paid for everything from groceries to country club memberships to theater tickets.

GE shares rose 85¢, or 3%, to $27.90 on Monday.

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