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Ace to take $298 million charge to increase asbestos reserves

A day after announcing the resignation of the chairman and chief executive of its US division, Bermuda-based insurer Ace Ltd has reported that it would take a $298 million after-tax charge in its fiscal fourth quarter to increase its reserves against asbestos and environmental claims.

Ace said the move reflected its ongoing practice of periodically reviewing its accident and emergency reserves. Ace has been one of many insurance companies to examine alternative ways of dealing with growing asbestos liabilities.

The charge comprises $279 million relating to its Brandywine operation and $19 million relating to the ACE Westchester Specialty unit. It includes a bad debt provision of $95 million and a tax benefit of $161 million.

ACE also announced plans to sell three reinsurance units in the first half of the year. The disposal of ACE American Reinsurance Company, Brandywine Reinsurance Co (UK) Ltd and Brandywine Reinsurance Company is expected to close in the first half of 2005.

This sale is an important step in our strategy to resolve our asbestos exposures responsibly and to achieve the certainty intended by the 1996 reorganization, said Evan Greenberg, president and CEO of ACE Limited.

Earlier in the week, Ace had reported the resignation of its US unit’s chief executive. Although Ace did not give a reason for the departure of Susan Rivera, the company had been investigating instances of wrongdoing at a division of ACE USA.