HP's Autonomy deal, debacles many
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When Hewlett Packard acquired Autonomy last year for $11.1 billion, some 15 different financial, legal and accounting firms were involved in the transaction -- and none raised a flag about what HP said Tuesday was a major accounting fraud.HP stunned Wall Street with the allegations about its British software unit and took an $8.8 billion writedown, the
latest in a string of reversals for the storied company.HP Chief Executive Meg Whitman, who was a director at the company at the time of the deal, said the board had relied on accounting firm Deloitte for vetting Autonomy's financials and
that KPMG was subsequently hired to audit Deloitte.HP had many other advisers as well: boutique investment bank Perella Weinberg Partners to serve as its lead adviser, along with Barclays. The company's legal advisers included Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer; Drinker Biddle & Reath; and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, which advised the board.On Autonomy's side of the table were Frank Quattrone's Qatalyst Partners, which specializes in tech deals, as well as UBS, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America. Slaughter & May and Morgan Lewis served as Autonomy's legal advisers on the deal.While regulators in the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, are likely to spend many months if not years investigating what happened, legal experts said on Tuesday that it wasn't clear if any of the advisers would ultimately be held liable.
"The most logical deep pocket would be the acquired firm's auditors, who should have allegedly caught these defalcations," said James Cox, a professor at Duke University law school who specializes in corporate and securities law. Since both auditors missed the problems and it appeared to have taken HP a while to catch it after it took over Autonomy, the auditors may have a strong defense."You can have a perfectly sound audit and still have fraud exist," he said. A Deloitte UK spokesman said the company could not comment and would cooperate with any investigations.The law firms and the bankers will likely argue that they were not hired to review the bookkeeping and had relied on the opinion of the auditors, securities law experts said.Multiple sources with knowledge of the HP-Autonomy transaction added that the big-name banks on Autonomy's side were brought in days before the final agreement was struck. These sources said the banks were brought on as favors for their long relationships with the companies, in a little-scrutinized Wall Street practice of crediting -- and paying – investment banks that actually have little do with the deal.
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