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BOSTON -- Massachusetts Insurance Commissioner Linda Ruthardt told a state legislative panel that her boss pressured her not to reopen the controversial 1995 redomestication of General Electric Co.'s Electric Mutual Liability Insurance Co.

In testimony before Massachusetts House Post Audit and Oversight Bureau investigators, Ms. Ruthardt said former Consumer Affairs Secretary Nancy Merrick told her in June 1996 not to pursue the EMLICO matter further, a spokesman for Ms. Ruthardt confirmed. The testimony was given in a closed meeting this year but came to light last week in Boston newspaper reports.

Ms. Ruthardt also testified that Ms. Merrick said she was acting at the behest of former Gov. William F. Weld's office. After the conversation, Ms. Ruthardt said she called one of Gov. Weld's legal advisers, who told her the governor's office had made no such request and that she should "do the right thing," the spokesman said.

After a public hearing in late June 1996, Ms. Ruthardt decided not to reopen the EMLICO case but to pursue fraud allegations against the insurer as part of a confidential exam of former EMLICO affiliate Electric Insurance Co. (BI, July 8, 1996). The decision was not influenced by the conversation with Ms. Merrick, Ms. Ruthardt's spokesman indicated.

Ms. Merrick, now a state superior court judge, could not be reached. A spokesman for Ms. Merrick was quoted in The Boston Globe last week denying that she had tried to influence Commissioner Ruthardt.

A spokesman for GE, EMLICO's sole policyholder, said, "There was never any improper assistance that was granted (to GE) by anyone in the (Weld) administration."

EMLICO declared itself insolvent after moving to Bermuda in 1995, triggering charges from its reinsurers that the move had been plotted by the insurer and GE to take advantage of the island's favorable liquidation laws.