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UK's accounting watchdog investigating Autonomy finances pre-HP deal

Disciplinary proceedings could follow

The U.K.'s Financial Reporting Council has launched a probe into Autonomy's financial reporting over a period of more than two years prior to its acquisition by Hewlett-Packard.

Autonomy's reports from January 2009 to mid-2011 will be examined by the FRC, according to a statement released Monday.

Following the investigation, the FRC will decide "whether to bring disciplinary proceedings against Member Firm or Member and, if so decided, referral to Disciplinary Tribunal," the statement adds. Such a tribunal could lead to a "wide range of sanctions," including an "unlimited fine" and the "withdrawal of practising certificates or licences," the FRC said.

The Autonomy deal was already being investigated by the U.K.'s Serious Fraud Office as well as the U.S. Department of Justice.

In November, HP announced it would take a US$8.8 billion writedown on the Autonomy business, attributing some $5 billion of that total to alleged accounting improprieties at the vendor prior to the acquisition. Autonomy, which sells information management software, cost HP $10.3 billion, a price tag that has been widely criticized as too expensive.

Autonomy founder Mike Lynch has roundly denied HP's allegations and alleged that company officials haven't been wholly forthcoming.

A statement posted on Lynch's website Monday expressed praise for the FRC's investigation. "The accounts of Autonomy have previously been reviewed by the FRC, including during the period in question, and no actions or changes were recommended or required," it reads. "We welcome this investigation. Autonomy received unqualified audit reports throughout its life as a public company. This includes the period in question, during which Autonomy was audited by Deloitte. We are fully confident in the financial reporting of the company and look forward to the opportunity to demonstrate this to the FRC."

An HP spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

The Autonomy acquisition occurred under the tenure of former CEO Leo Apotheker, who was ousted in September 2011 and replaced by Meg Whitman. Apotheker has said he was "stunned" by the allegations of accounting impropriety.

Whitman, who signed off on the Autonomy deal as a member of HP's board, has said the company remains committed to the division.

Still, rumors have circulated that HP could divest the business, and there have been reports of suitors approaching the vendor with offers.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com


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