A Hewlett-Packard shareholder filed a lawsuit against the company for an $8.8 billion writedown on Autonomy, the British analytics firm it acquired last year. When the deal was first announced, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison deemed the $11 billion buyout price inflated, a statement that today seems more valid than ever.
The unnamed stakeholder behind the suit accuses HP of issuing “issued false and misleading statements”. The plaintiff claims that the company pushed through with the transaction with full knowledge of Automy’s shaky financial circumstances, and puts the blame directly on its senior management. The court filing names CEO Meg Whitman, former chief executive Leo Apotheker, COO Catherine Lesjak and James Murrin, HP’s CFO at the time, as defendants.
The investor could have a fairly strong case. For one, Hewlett-Packard only revealed the existence of the $8.8 billion gap a week ago during its earnings call, in spite of the fact the Autonomy takeover was announced in August 2011. And former employees of the British firm are starting to come forward with details of fishy accounting practices that HP should have taken into consideration.
According to these anonymous sources, Autonomy did not refrain from striking “round-trip transactions” with clients – a mutual exchange of products and services. And there are also reports of transactions that outright violet the law.
“The rules aren’t that complicated,” said Dan Mahoney of accounting research business CFRA, who covered Autonomy until it was acquired. He said neither U.S. nor international accounting rules would allow companies to recognize not-yet collected revenue from customers that might be at risk not to pay, which he said appears to be the case in some of Autonomy’s transactions.”
To top it all off, the FBI has launched an inquiry into the matter. Meg Whitman clearly has her work cut out for her, even if she didn’t already have to worry about HP’s faltering consumer and enterprise hardware businesses.
Despite the questionable accounting going on at Autonomy, SiliconANGLE founding editor Mark “Rizzn” Hopkins maintains Autonomy has a solid product. HP may have overpaid for Autonomy, but it may be worth working through this mess. Hopkins discusses this theory at length during this morning’s NewsDesk segment with Kristin Feledy. See the full clip below.