A little over a month ago, HP announced that they were writing down $8.8 billion from "improprieties" in their 2011 acquisition of UK software firm Autonomy, and this week the United States Department of Justice has opened an inquiry into HP's allegations. Those allegations are that Autonomy engaged in accounting fraud that dramatically increased the perceived value of the firm, leading HP to overpay by several billion dollars when they executed their $11 billion purchase.
The Autonomy writedown was the third multi-billion paper loss for HP in a year, following up on a $3.3 billion loss on webOS after abruptly canceling hardware development and an $8 billion loss stemming from the 2008 purchase of EDS. Through 2012, shares of HP have declined 45%, despite dumping floudering CEO Leo Apotheker for former eBay chief Meg Whitman.
According to a filing by HP with the SEC, the DOJ investigation into the Autonomy acquisition began on November 21, 2012, the day after HP publicly leveled accusations at the former leadership of the software unit (Whitman fired Autonomy CEO Mike Lynch in May of 2012). Unsurprisingly, HP claims to be cooperating with agencies investigating the alleged malfeasance. In addition to the DOJ probe, HP also says they've submitted their evidence to the United Kingdom's Serious Fraud Office and to the US SEC.
We have every expectation that this is going to be a long, drawn-out slog for HP, and that they're not likely to get much of their billions of dollars back. A group of disgruntled HP shareholders have filed suit against HP, alleging the company didn't do its due diligence, and Lynch has publicly fought back against HP allegations, demanding they release the evidence HP says they have of the improprieties. It's a cleve strategy that Lynch has employed, as HP's made to look publicly uncooperative when the evidence they've submitted to the authorities cannot be publicly shared while under investigation. And to think, HP cancelled webOS hardware development because they weren't willing to make the multi-billion investments needed for a chance at long-term success
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