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Citigroup and CNBC Scandal

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I worked for an arm of GE for a while — that is when I was at NBC — and I have some GE stock. As a stockholder I'm wondering if GE and NBC might have an ethics problem that maybe somebody is trying to sweep under the rug.

Here's the deal: A corporate scandal is unfolding at Citigroup, the big finance firm. A high-flying executive has been shown the door, and it turns out the reason may be that he used the company jet — an expensive transoceanic private plane — to fly CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo back to New York from Beijing.

Story is the exec might have gotten canned because other Citi big shots and their clients, according to press reports, had to book commercial flights because the corporate plane left early to haul the CNBC anchor back to New York.

Now remember: This is a financial journalist taking a cushy ride halfway around the world on a corporate jet. She says she did nothing wrong, that GE and Citi settled the charges for the flight at the corporate level.

As a GE shareholder I'd like to know what GE paid Citi for the use of that private jet. My staff made calls today. If I wanted to rent a G4 corporate jet I'd pay $5,700 per hour times the 17.5-hour flight from Beijing to Los Angeles and on to New York. I get a grand total of nearly $100,000. Just by the way, a first-class ticket on Continental Airlines is $3,900. So we seem to have an overcharge on a financial journalists' air travel of 25 times or a 2,500 percent upcharge.

Now, did I double-check the figures? Yes. We base our figures on information from airplanning.com, which charters everywhere.

The conclusion? Somebody seems to have paid a lot of money for CNBC's financial journalist to fly home from a China junket.

So who paid? Did GE stockholders pay the full freight to bring the GE employee home? Or did GE stick Citi with the bulk of the bill, and it should be Citi shareholders screaming bloody murder?

And just by the way: On the journalism issue, why could Citi want to treat a financial journalist to this kind of high-octane perk? Why would GE allow their CNBC financial journalist to be placed in this position of a possible conflict of interest?

Sure, these are big companies with a lot of money. I could live well on what they spill on the way to the bank. However, a $4,000 cost vs. what appears to be a cost 25 times that. Surely our friends at NBC have more digging to do.

That's My Word.

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