A SETTLEMENT to be signed in front of a New York judge as The Economist went to press on February 16th marked the end of years of attritional legal warfare. It was less clear who had won: the state of New York or Maurice (Hank) Greenberg, the now 91-year-old former chief executive of AIG, once the world’s largest insurer, but saved by a government bail-out in 2008.

Eric Schneiderman, New York’s attorney-general, had seemed in little doubt when he issued a surprise statement on February 10th. Hank Greenberg had admitted “to initiating, participating and approving two fraudulent transactions…that fundamentally misrepresented AIG’s finances.” He had agreed to pay a $9m fine.

Mr Greenberg, however, saw things differently. Within hours of Mr Schneiderman’s statement, his attorney, David Boies, issued a response, accusing the state of being false and misleading and noting that Mr Greenberg’s own carefully negotiated statement had no “reference to any accounting being fraudulent” or suggested that Mr Greenberg was aware of any fraud.

By February 13th Mr Greenberg was on the offensive. In a press conference held at the Park Avenue headquarters of the insurance business he now runs, Starr Companies, he denounced Mr Schneiderman’s characterisation of the deal and demanded an apology (not forthcoming). He had a sympathetic hearing in many quarters. Eliot Spitzer, the attorney-general who commenced the litigation in 2005, was known for loudly filing headline-grabbing cases.

Mr Greenberg had assembled a legal dream team at a cost, he estimated during a televised interview, of $200m. His various lawyers filed eight pre-trial appeals and innumerable motions. In the process, the scope of the original charges was whittled down. Demands for damages shrank from billions to millions of dollars. Mr Schneiderman is the third attorney-general to have presided over the case; a fourth incumbent might have given up.

Mr Greenberg has long contended AIG would never have collapsed had he been permitted to remain in charge, and consequently its failure stemmed from the state’s actions. But long before his departure, AIG under Mr Greenberg had built a massive derivatives position as well as a complex, opaque corporate structure that made outside scrutiny of risk difficult, if not impossible, and raised concerns that genuine problems were being hidden.

The alleged chicanery at the heart of the legal dispute involved whether the numbers AIG did provide were truly indicative of its performance. One of the contested transactions, with GenRe, a reinsurer, transformed an underwriting loss into an investment loss, protecting the reputation of its underwriting. The other appeared to boost AIG’s loss reserves, and thus its appearance of financial strength. Neither of the deals improved the underlying performance of the company nor was intended to transfer much risk. Asked as the press conference ended why he did the GenRe deal, Mr Greenberg replied, oddly, “for appearances”. That seemed to be precisely the point the attorney-general was trying to establish. But Mr Greenberg still insisted that “deceiving investors never entered our mind.” He and the state have settled; but they refuse to call it a draw.