John S. Reed, who helped engineer the merger that created Citigroup Inc., has apologized for his role in building the company that took $45 billion in direct U.S. aid.

"I'm sorry," Reed said in an interview Thursday about the risks of large banking companies. "These are people I love and care about. You could imagine, emotionally, it's not easy to see what's happened."

Citigroup was formed in 1998 when Citicorp, a commercial banking company, merged with Sanford I. Weill's Travelers Group Inc., which owned the investment firm Salomon Smith Barney Holdings Inc. The New York company lost $27.7 billion last year and took $118 billion in writedowns. Now 34%-owned by the Treasury Department, Citigroup sought government help in the wake of a credit freeze that claimed three of Wall Street's biggest firms and led to the deepest recession in 70 years.

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