After more than a year of being attacked by Pershing Square Capital CEO Bill Ackman, Herbalife Ltd. (NYSE:HLF) must be thrilled to have found something it can use to push back. Now that the deal between Ackman and former Herbalife executive Giovanni Bohorquez has been made public, Herbalife wants to know how else Ackman has spent $20 million during this campaign.
Ackman indemnified Herbalife whistleblower
The first rumors that someone inside Herbalife Ltd. (NYSE:HLF) was talking to the press came out earlier this month, when Fox Business News correspondent Charlie Gasparino reported a rumor that ABC was going to run an expose on 20/20, and that a whistleblower has been talking both to the press and to government investigators. The segment turned out to be for ABC’s Nightline instead of 20/20, but has otherwise turned out to be correct.
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But it has also come to light that there is an agreement between Bohorquez and Ackman that will cover all of Bohorquez’s legal costs relating to his allegations and up to $3.6 million in lost pay over the next decade. Obviously, Herbalife Ltd. (NYSE:HLF) is calling foul.
“Mr. Ackman has spent more than $20 million to date on his campaign,” Herbalife Ltd. (NYSE:HLF) wrote in a statement. “This includes a contractual arrangement to pay an individual up to $3.6 million over 10 years to make accusations against Herbalife, in addition to Mr. Ackman’s agreement to pay the individual’s legal fees and arrange his public relations efforts.”
Reaction to the deal will fall along existing lines
The contract has a provision that requires Bohorquez to tell the truth about his experiences (and not to make any material omissions), but that’s not going to satisfy either Herbalife Ltd. (NYSE:HLF) or its supporters. It doesn’t help that Bohorquez didn’t mention the contract when he first talked to ABC back in December, apparently because he hadn’t started receiving any payments yet. Now Herbalife wants Ackman to outline how he has spent $20 million in his lobbying efforts against Herbalife, who he has made payments to, and whether the details of his lobbying efforts are known to any of the regulators currently investigating Herbalife.
Pershing Square has released a statement saying that indemnities to other whistleblowers are “limited to legal fees and damages incurred in the event that these individuals are sued by Herbalife, and do not provide for recoveries for lost wages,” reports Nathan Vardi at Forbes.
Realistically, reactions to the deal will depend on how people already feel about Herbalife Ltd. (NYSE:HLF): supporters will see this as evidence that Ackman is engaged in a witch hunt while critics will say that he’s giving a whistleblower the protection he needs to come forward. But however this plays out in the media, what still matters is what the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and other investigators make of it.