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HP had 'buyer's remorse' over ill-fated Autonomy deal, court hears

LONDON (Reuters) - Hewlett-Packard suffered “buyer’s remorse” over its disastrous $11 billion acquisition of Autonomy and was trying to pin the blame on UK entrepreneur Mike Lynch, London’s High Court heard on Monday in the closing stages of a multi-billion dollar case.

FILE PHOTO: British entrepreneur Mike Lynch leaves the High Court in London, Britain March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo

U.S. software giant Hewlett-Packard (HP) is suing Autonomy founder Lynch along with his former finance chief Sushovan Hussain for more than $5 billion, alleging that they inflated the value of the British data firm before selling it.

Lynch and Hussain have denied the allegations.

HP bought Autonomy in 2011 but a year later it wrote down the value of the British company by $8.8 billion, saying it had uncovered serious accounting improprieties.

Lynch’s lawyer Robert Miles told the court on Monday that HP’s then-chairman Ray Lane had “serious cold feet” almost immediately after the deal was announced, and the company’s board and management had never seriously tried to integrate Autonomy.

“This is a case study in buyer’s remorse,” he said.

“The board buckled to the pressure of the adverse movement in the share price and indeed we say lost their corporate nerve,” he added.

HP has argued Lynch and Hussain were complicit in a plan to inflate the value of Autonomy through a series of fraudulent transactions, such as selling hardware at a loss and “round-trip” deals, a type of barter with no real commercial rationale.

The U.S. company, in its closing argument last month, said Lynch had invented evidence on the stand in order to distance himself from some of the alleged fraudulent transactions. Lynch had told “lie after lie”, HP’s counsel said.

Miles, however, said on Monday that there were two levels to the case: firstly whether there were any underlying problems with Autonomy’s accounts; and secondly, if there were such problems, whether Lynch was complicit.

He said the allegation that Lynch knew that any of Autonomy’s accounts were false was “really far-fetched”, given that he was already rich and successful and he would continue to lead Autonomy after it was acquired, by which time HP would have full access to all of the accounts.

Closing arguments in the civil case will end this month, although further evidence could be heard in the coming months before Judge Robert Hildyard makes his judgement later in the year.

The United States last month formally requested the extradition of Lynch to face criminal charges including securities fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy over the 2011 HP deal.

Hussain has already been convicted on 16 counts of wire fraud, securities fraud and conspiracy in San Francisco over the deal, and he received a five-year prison term and a $4 million fine in May.

Hussain was granted bail in June while he appeals his conviction.

Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Pravin Char

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