(Adds details on hoax press release, quote from GE CEO, member of "Yes Men" activist group"
BOSTON (Reuters) - General Electric Co denied sending a press release saying that it would return a tax refund to the U.S. government. The press release was sent by the "Yes Men" activist group, a member of that group said.
"It's a hoax and GE did not receive a refund," said Deirdre Latour, a GE spokeswoman.
The hoax press release claimed that the company planned to give $3.2 billion that it had received as tax refund to the federal government as a gift.
Andrew Boyd, who described himself in a phone interview as a member of the "Yes Men" group, said it was the source of the press release sent to news media outlets on Wednesday.
The largest U.S. conglomerate has come under fire in recent weeks after the New York Times reported that it paid no U.S. income taxes in 2010, a claim that GE denies. It has acknowledged that its 2010 tax bill was low due to hefty losses at its GE Capital finance unit during the financial crisis.
Chief Executive Jeff Immelt in a March speech in Washington acknowledged that the company tries to keep its tax bill as low as it can but said it does so legally.
"Our tax rate will be higher in 2011," Immelt told the Washington Economic Club. "We do it in a compliant way. There are no exceptions."
The "Yes Men" sent the release to draw attention to GE's approach to taxes, Boyd said in a phone interview.
"This is unpatriotic, it's undemocratic, it's unfair," Boyd said. "It might be legal but it's immoral."
(Reporting by Scott Malone, editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Dave Zimmerman)