Accounting differences, not fraud, led to HP's Autonomy write-down, says Lynch

Autonomy founder Mike Lynch says he has obtained an HP document that proves it

Autonomy founder Mike Lynch says he has obtained a Hewlett-Packard document that shows how differences in accounting standards, not fraud on Autonomy's part, are to blame for the debacle surrounding HP's acquisition of the company.

HP purchased Autonomy for US$11.1 billion in 2011. A year later HP announced an $8.8 billion write-down and attributed $5.5 billion of that loss to accounting fraud at Autonomy before the sale.

Lynch made the claim about accounting standards Tuesday in a blog post, saying the revenue information in the document showed that Autonomy properly documented its sales. Some of the accusations around the merger's fallout include claims that Autonomy reclassified low-margin hardware sales as high-volume software sales to inflate revenue. Lynch has denied that charge.

"The document shows the write-down was due to HP's changes in accounting policy and it's own business decisions, not fraud," Lynch wrote.

HP engaged in a financial transaction called a "rebasing exercise" to bring the accounts of Autonomy, a U.K. company that followed international accounting practices, in line with U.S. accounting practices used by HP, Lynch said.

Lynch, citing a Tuesday Financial Times story that contained snippets of the document, wrote that HP determined that U.S. and international accounting practices permitted certain revenues to be reported at later dates from when they were initially earned. HP then took Autonomy revenue from 2010 and 2011 "and moved it to be recognized in later periods."

An audit showed that a majority of the moved revenue came from hardware sales and hosted software deals with large companies, Lynch wrote.

"In simple terms, HP's own paperwork shows that all Autonomy deals were recorded and accounted for. There are contracts and revenue entries. There is no missing money. The only differences are over interpretation of accounting standards," he said.

HP believed otherwise and in 2012, after reporting the write-down in its quarterly earnings, issued a statement claiming that "some former members of Autonomy's management team used accounting improprieties, misrepresentations and disclosure failures to inflate the underlying financial metrics of the company, prior to Autonomy's acquisition by HP."

Lynch said he asked HP for the document for two years, but his requests were denied. Viewing the original document shows that HP made false statements about the Autonomy write-down, he wrote, adding that he plans to give this new information to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC, U.S. Department of Justice and U.K. Serious Fraud Office are investigating the sale of Autonomy to HP.

HP welcomed Lynch's decision to approach government officials.

"The evidence is clear that the former Autonomy management team engaged in a massive fraud. We encourage Mike to spend as much time as possible speaking with the authorities," the company said in an emailed statement.

Lynch did not respond to a request for comment.

Fred O'Connor writes about IT careers and health IT for The IDG News Service. Follow Fred on Twitter at @fredjoconnor. Fred's e-mail address is fred_o'connor@idg.com

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