Private Equity Colluded on Big Deals? E-mails Provide Possible Evidence
Thanks to a motion made by The New York Times in August, e-mails relating to an anti-trust civil lawsuit being brought against 11 of the biggest private equity firms have been made public. The e-mails were part of a court filing yesterday, alleging that the top firms colluded to drive prices down in more than two dozen takeovers of publicly traded companies, the Times reported.
The case was filed in Federal District Court in Boston in 2007 and brought by former shareholders,
"These e-mails are strong signals of anticompetitive behavior," said Darren Bush, an antitrust law professor at the University of Houston, as reported to the Times. "It is always highly problematic when you have such freewheeling discussions between competitors."
A spokesperson for one of the firms, Blackstone, denied improper conduct, saying the bid was competitive, in reference to a Sept. 2006, $18 billion deal in question, in which Blackstone outbid a Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (K.K.R.) consortium to buy Freescale Semi-Conductor. A K.K.R. spokesperson is quoted by the Times as saying, the claim of collusion was "preposterous."
The paper reported the following e-mail exchange:
"Henry Kravis just called to say congratulations and that they were standing down because he had told me before they would not jump a signed deal of ours," Blackstone President Hamilton E. James wrote to a colleagues referring to K.K.R. co-founder Henry Kravis.
"We would much rather work with you guys than against you," Mr. James wrote in an e-mail to Blackstone co-founder George R. Roberts, "Together we can be unstoppable but in opposition we can cost each other a lot of money."
"Agreed," responded Mr. Roberts.