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Fallen tech star Mike Lynch faces Hewlett-Packard fraud claims in US trial

If convicted on all counts by a jury, Lynch along with his co-accused Stephen Chamberlain could each face a sentence of more than 20 years in prison.

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Mike Lynch court case

Mike Lynch, the multi-millionaire tech tycoon who was once hailed as shining example of British ingenuity, is set to face claims he defrauded Hewlett-Packard in the 11 billion dollar sale of his software company Autonomy at a trial in California on Monday.

The criminal trial in San Francisco revolves around HP’s acquisition of Autonomy, a deal that was celebrated as coup when it was announced in 2011, only to blow up into a costly debacle.

The alleged villains in the trial are former Autonomy CEO Lynch along with Stephen Chamberlain, Autonomy’s former vice president of finance.

Mike Lynch court case
Mike Lynch leaves the Rolls Building in London following the civil case over the sale of his software firm Autonomy to Hewlett-Packard in 2011 (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

They are both defending themselves against 16 felony counts of fraud and conspiracy in a trial expected to run until late May or June and include evidence from more than 40 witnesses.

If convicted on all counts by a jury, Lynch and Chamberlain each could face a sentence of more than 20 years in prison.

Autonomy’s former chief financial officer, Sushovan Hussain, was sentenced to five years in prison in 2019 after being convicted on 16 counts of fraud and conspiracy.

The trial targeting Lynch and Chamberlain is also expected to cast a spotlight on Meg Whitman, who was hired to become CEO of the company started 85 years ago by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard in a Palo Alto garage.

Whitman dipped into her estimated fortune of three billion dollars to finance an unsuccessful campaign to become California governor as the Republican Party nominee in 2010.

She then joined HP’s board and was tapped to replace company CEO Leo Apotheker, who had negotiated the Autonomy acquisition before being replaced in September 2011 just before the deal was completed.

Hewlett Packard Rotten Deal Trial
The trial is also expected to cast a spotlight on Meg Whitman, who was hired to become CEO of the company (Jeff Chiu/AP)

At the time, HP was struggling to remain relevant amid a technological shift to mobile computing being driven by the then-rising popularity of smartphones.

The upheaval depressed demand for desktop and laptop computers, a market that had been one of HP’s financial cornerstones.

In an effort to lessen its dependence on PCs, HP snapped up Autonomy to gain ownership of software focused on helping businesses quickly sift through vital information stored in email, phone records and other repositories.

But HP uncovered evidence that Autonomy had been cooking the books to inflate its value after the takeover was completed, prompting Whitman to write off nearly nine billion dollars of the acquisition price.

It would also spur accusations of criminal conduct, leading to the indictment of Lynch and Chamberlain in 2018.

The trial was delayed during a civil trial about the alleged fraud in London that culminated in a judge siding with HP in a 2022 ruling that indicated the damages would be less than the five billion dollars (£3.9bn) that HP wanted.

The final amount of damages hasn’t been determined.

Lynch, 58, was extradited to the US last May, and has since been living under court-mandated restrictions in San Francisco while being allowed to remain out of prison on a 100 million dollar bail bond secured by 50 million dollars in cash while awaiting trial.

Court documents estimate that Lynch made more than 800 million dollars on Autonomy’s sale to HP.

In the London civil trial, Lynch maintained he never participated in any underhanded dealings at Autonomy and painted himself as a scapegoat for a bumbling management team led by Whitman, who he depicted as being “out of her depth”.

Lynch also hailed Autonomy as “one of the most successful companies England has ever produced”.

Whitman, 67, denigrated Lynch as an unstable executive whose complaints about her decisions “became less and less focused and grounded in reality” before she ousted him from HP in 2012.

Now the US ambassador to Kenya, Whitman isn’t expected to be called to give evidence in Lynch’s criminal trial, even though her leadership of the company is likely to be put under a microscope during the proceedings.

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