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Time Warner fraud charge settled

Date Class
15th Dec 2004 Fraud Investigation
Media giant Time Warner is to pay $210m (108m) to settle charges of securities fraud involving America Online (AOL).

The US Department of Justice has been investigating allegations that AOL conspired with several smaller internet firms to inflate their earnings.

Criminal charges will be deferred for two years, provided the US firm agrees to cooperate with investigators.

The case relates to transactions between AOL and other companies prior to its merger with Time Warner in 2000.

The world's largest media company is also expected to announce a proposed agreement on Wednesday with financial regulators regarding a separate investigation into accounting irregularities at AOL.

Time Warner has set aside $500m to cover the cost of settling both investigations.

The Department of Justice inquiry relates to advertising deals between AOL and other internet firms in 1999.

The investigation has centred on whether AOL artificially boosted the firms' earnings by offering them money to buy advertisements, deals which made its own finances appear stronger than they actually were.

Eight executives from two of the companies involved have admitted to taking part in a scheme to inflate profits.

No executives from Time Warner or America Online have been charged with wrongdoing and according to a report in The New York Times, the company will neither admit nor deny wrongdoing as part of the DOJ settlement.

A second inquiry being conducted by the Securities and Exchange Commission is examining whether AOL improperly accounted for a $400m payment made by German media company Bertelsmann, which used to own 50% of AOL Europe.

At issue is whether the payment was used to inflate America Online profits.

The twin investigations are among a series of problems which have dogged Time Warner stemming from its merger with AOL.

The company has been unable to issue new shares or raise money through debt markets for the past two years while the SEC investigation has been taking place.

Time Warner dropped the AOL name last year.




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