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HP mulls legal action on Autonomy fraud claims, needs more time

A Hewlett-Packard logo is seen at the company's Executive Briefing Center in Palo Alto, California January 16, 2013. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
A Hewlett-Packard logo is seen at the company's Executive Briefing Center in Palo Alto, California January 16, 2013. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) - Hewlett-Packard Co said on Friday it has made decisions on how to address shareholders' securities fraud claims over its $8.8 billion writedown for its purchase of British software company Autonomy Plc, but wants six more weeks to decide what legal course to pursue.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco had on September 6 given Hewlett-Packard until Friday to vote on recommendations by a committee of independent directors.

The committee was to advise whether the Palo Alto, California-based personal computer and printer company should try to have claims against various officers and directors dismissed, or join the claims in a bid to recoup its losses.

In a Friday court filing, Hewlett-Packard said its board has reviewed the recommendations and "made decisions with respect to the actions that it deems to be in the best interests of the company and its shareholders."

It nonetheless said it has agreed with the plaintiffs' lawyers to keep the lawsuit on hold until February 28, and discuss the board's recommendations with them between February 18 and 20.

Joseph Cotchett, a lawyer representing shareholders, was not immediately available for comment.

Hewlett-Packard has claimed it was itself a victim for having paid $11.1 billion to buy Autonomy in 2011.

It took the writedown in November 2012, accusing Autonomy officials including former Chief Executive Mike Lynch of accounting fraud. Lynch has denied the allegations.

Fallout from the purchase included the departure of two Hewlett-Packard directors, and prompted Chairman Ray Lane to give up that post. It also included criminal and civil probes by authorities in the United States and United Kingdom.

In November, Breyer said shareholders could pursue a separate lawsuit accusing Hewlett-Packard and CEO Meg Whitman of failing to reveal soon enough in 2012 that the company may have overpaid for Autonomy or suspected fraud.

Breyer in that case also dismissed claims against Whitman's predecessor Leo Apotheker, who engineered the Autonomy purchase.

The case is In re: Hewlett-Packard Co Shareholder Derivative Litigation, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 12-06003.

(This story was corrected to make clear Ray Lane gave up chairman post, not board seat)

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Richard Chang)

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