Hewlett-Packard has made if official. The Justice Department is indeed investigating HP's allegations that Autonomy execs tricked the troubled technology giant into paying way too much for the British software maker. In disclosing the probe in its annual regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, HP has started the next chapter in its ongoing feud with Autonomy founder Mike Lynch - who denies duping HP.
The probe was expected, given that HP announced last month it had proof that it had been conned in last year's $10.3 billion acquisition-turned-fiasco. At the time, HP said it had turned over the evidence to the Justice Department, the SEC and the U.K. Serious Fraud Office. "On November 21, 2012, representatives of the U.S. Department of Justice advised HP that they had opened an investigation relating to Autonomy," the company reported to the SEC Thursday.
HP claims Autonomy executives inflated the company's value by reporting some revenue prematurely or improperly. The alleged bogus reporting accounts for almost 60% of the $8.8 billion write down HP booked last month on the Autonomy deal.
Ex-Autonomy Chief Executive Lynch responded to the investigation Friday by continuing to deny any wrongdoing. On a website Lynch set up to counter HP's allegations, he reiterated his complaint that HP has yet to release any details of the alleged scam. "Simply put, these allegations are false, and in the absence of further detail we cannot understand what HP believes to be the basis for them," Lynch wrote.
Details Still Hidden
HP is still keeping the details of the allegations confidential among itself, prosecutors and regulators. Thursday's filing did not provide any new details. Nevertheless, Lynch is ready to tell his side of the story. "We will co-operate with any investigation and look forward to the opportunity to explain our position," he wrote.
Throughout the claims and counterclaims, HP stock continues to get hammered. From the beginning of 2012 to Thursday, the price has fallen 45%.
Officially, the Federal Bureau of Investigation won't discuss whether or not it is involved in the case. However, an unidentified source told Bloomberg that the agency is assisting the SEC in its investigation.
While Autonomy execs are under the investigatory microscope, shareholders are blaming HP for the deal that ended up wasting billions of dollars. In the SEC filing, HP lists 10 lawsuits, including four class-action suits.
Apotheker Still Blamed
HP CEO Leo Apotheker, who was fired in September 2011, led the Autonomy deal as part of a plan to get HP deeper into the high-margin enterprise software business, while reducing its dependence on selling low-margin PCs. Autonomy software searches, organizes and manages data within large companies.
Apotheker sealed the end of his short career with HP when he announced he was considering the sale of its PC business. Because he had no buyer, Apotheker's disclosure sent Wall Street analysts into a tizzy. To them, Apotheker appeared to lack a clear vision or roadmap for saving HP from its years of bad deals, management turmoil and strategic blunders.
Current HP CEO Meg Whitman was on the company's board when it signed off on the Autonomy deal. Nevertheless, she has distanced herself and other board members from the debacle by laying the blame on Apotheker and then mergers and acquisitions head Shane Robinson, who also left the company in 2011.
History aside, now that federal prosecutors are officially involved, the repetitive claims and counterclaims being tossed back and forth between HP and Lynch won't matter much. The companies, their customers and shareholders now have to hope for clarity in the courts, especially if charges are filed.