Hewlett-Packard allegations: Autonomy founder Mike Lynch tries to clear name

As legal arguments from both sides grind on in the US, UK Serious Fraud Office investigation still not concluded

Three years ago, Mike Lynch was the founder of Britain's most successful software company, which was sold to the US computing giant Hewlett-Packard (HP) for a breathtaking $11bn (£6.6bn). Today, he and Autonomy's finance director Sushovan Hussain are characterised by HP as the "architects" of a "massive fraud" that inflicted billions of dollars of harm on the company.

Two years after these allegations were first made, scant evidence to support them has emerged. The 750,000 pages of confidential documents HP has provided to government investigators in the US remain hidden from public view.

Lynch believes HP is avoiding disclosure because no fraud took place and the company does not have the evidence to convince a jury. Recent events seem to point that way. HP has threatened on many occasions to sue Lynch and his management team, but has yet to take action.

Meanwhile, cases brought on the part of disgruntled shareholders have been settled using yet more HP cash. Some $57m was paid out to pension funds in March, and earlier this month two law firms agreed to drop their suit and switch sides, in exchange for $18m in fees. The avenues that could have forced HP to unlock its filing cabinets are being closed down.

On Thursday, Hussain was joined by another HP shareholder, Rod Cook, in trying to block the $18m settlement, on the grounds that one of the law firms involved had an alleged conflict of interest. Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy will be working for HP if the settlement is approved, but in a previous and unrelated case, it is already suing HP for deceptively marketing printer ink cartridges.

To clear his name, Lynch either needs a court case or a ruling from one of the regulators looking into the issue. The three investigations, by the Serious Fraud Office in the UK, and the US Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission, are at risk of petering out with no conclusive verdicts. The SFO began its probe in March 2013, but there have been no developments since.

Meanwhile, lawyers on all sides are using legal privilege to sling mud. Lynch says it is not only his name that has been stained, but that of the British technology industry. Autonomy's accounting and marketing methods had attracted criticism before the HP acquisition, but Lynch was also a poster child for the achievements of Cambridge's Silicon Fen. The Autonomy affair casts a shadow, and a conclusion from the SFO is overdue.


Juliette Garside

The GuardianTramp

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