Liz Gannes

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More From Mike Lynch: HP’s Autonomy Accusations Are Getting Weaker

While Hewlett-Packard may have struck the first blow in its fraud charges around its Autonomy acquisition, former Autonomy CEO Mike Lynch hasn’t stopped swinging since.

mike_lynch_380Today, Lynch asserts that HP is “backtracking” on its claims against him and the Autonomy management team — because its latest statements can be read as less broad and assertive than those of the past.

On Nov. 20, HP blamed Autonomy’s former management team for more than $5 billion worth of write-downs regarding the 2011 acquisition. Yesterday, it disclosed in a financial filing that it had persuaded the U.S. Department of Justice to officially look at the issue. Lynch quickly responded with a lengthy public statement reiterating his defense, demanding more information from HP, and attesting that he had yet to be contacted by any regulatory authorities.

But what’s one statement about a statement about a statement when you can make two? Today, Lynch’s PR team sent another lengthy comment from Lynch, this time dissecting the language used in HP’s 10-K filing on Thursday.

Lynch claims there’s hidden meaning in the succinct legalese of the financial filing that backtracks from what HP originally said on Nov. 20.

For instance, the Nov. 20 statement — which was given in the form of a press release and conference call — blamed the majority of the multi-billion-dollar write-down on “serious accounting improprieties, disclosure failures and outright misrepresentations at Autonomy Corporation that occurred prior to HP’s acquisition of Autonomy.” The Dec. 27 filing explains that estimates of lowered value for Autonomy “incorporate HP’s analysis of what it believes were accounting improprieties, incomplete disclosures and misrepresentations at Autonomy.”

For Lynch at least, that’s a smoking gun. The alleged fraud has been downgraded from driving the “majority” of the write-down to just being “incorporated” as a part of it.

Update: HP responded to these latest charges with a statement of its own, saying its position has not changed. Here’s that:

HP has been very transparent about the issues relating to Autonomy and the reasons why we announced an $8.8 billion non-cash impairment charge on November 20th. As we have said previously, the majority of this impairment charge, more than $5 billion, is linked to serious accounting improprieties, disclosure failures and outright misrepresentations discovered by HP’s internal investigation into Autonomy’s practices prior to and in connection with the acquisition.

Our Form 10-K for fiscal 2012 is meant to provide the necessary overview of HP’s financial condition, including our audited financial statements, which is what our filing does. As disclosed in the filing, the U.S. Department of Justice advised HP that they have opened an investigation relating to Autonomy. HP is cooperating with the Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the UK’s Serious Fraud Office in this matter. We continue to believe that the authorities and the courts are the appropriate venues in which to address the wrongdoing discovered at Autonomy.

And here’s Lynch’s full statement:

HP is backtracking.

In a message posted on this website a week ago today, we urged Meg Whitman to use HP’s annual 10-K filing to provide a full explanation of the allegations of accounting impropriety at Autonomy which she made on November 20. Unfortunately, she did not do so. HP finally filed its 10-K yesterday, more than a week later than usual, but again failed to provide any detailed information on the alleged accounting impropriety, or how this could possibly have resulted in such a substantial write down.

HP’s failure to provide us and its own shareholders with clarity on these crucial issues does not come as much of a surprise. Ever since putting out those very serious but non-specific allegations last month, HP has refused to disclose either the substance of its allegations or any supporting evidence.

In fact, HP’s 10-K filing appears to raise many more questions than it answers. Having had further time to study HP’s filing since it was released near midnight last night (UK time), it is apparent that a number of the statements contained within the filing are materially different from HP’s previous commentary on these issues. It also appears that the company is back-tracking on a number of key points that under-pinned its original allegations:

1. How much of the Autonomy write down is actually being blamed on accounting improprieties?

In its November 20 statement, HP stated that “The majority of [the Autonomy] impairment charge, more than $5 billion, is linked to serious accounting improprieties, misrepresentation and disclosure failures” committed by “former members of Autonomy’s management team”. However, HP’s 10-K filing refers much more equivocally to a $5.7 billion goodwill impairment charge that “incorporates” the alleged accounting improprieties at Autonomy. So, how much of the $5.7 billion is being directly attributed by HP to accounting improprieties, and how much should in fact be attributed to other changes in business performance, earnings projections and discount rate?

2. Does HP have facts or beliefs?

In its November 20 statement, HP was definitive in accusing “former members of Autonomy’s management team” of “serious accounting improprieties, misrepresentation and disclosure failures”, stating these matters as fact. However, HP’s 10-K filing is materially weaker, referring to its interpretation of accounting improprieties which it “believes” to have taken place at Autonomy. Why did it make such definitive assertions before any independent assessment of the matter, and why is it less confident now than it was a month ago?

3. Why does the 10-K contain less detail than its last statement?
HP’s November 20 statement clearly leveled the accusations at “former members of Autonomy’s management team”. However, HP’s 10-K filing does not repeat – let alone expand upon – this specific detail, or indicate who it is accusing of wrongdoing. Every time we ask for more information, we get less.

Today we renew the call for HP to release the PwC report on which its allegations are based, along with any other relevant supporting evidence that was behind the statements of November 20, and explain the material differences between those statements and the 10-K.

It is time for Meg Whitman to stop making allegations and to start offering explanations.

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— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus