The creator of Fox Broadcasting Co. agreed this week to pay a $480,000 civil penalty to settle charges he violated premerger reporting requirements in acquiring voting securities of the Coca-Cola Co., saying Wednesday he was “dismayed” by the government’s handling of the case.
“While I do not dispute the facts the Federal Trade Commission chose to selectively highlight in their press release regarding my agreement to pay a fine for the purchase of Coca-Cola shares, I was dismayed at what they failed to say,” Barry Diller said.
“I chose to settle this matter rather than pursue the time and expense of a court challenge because the FTC agreed to accept a small fraction of the fines that their theory, if accurate, would have entitled them to,” he said. “In fact, I am told that the amount I agreed to pay is one of the smallest percentages the FTC has settled for with respect to purported violations.”
The media mogul said he thought the FTC would explain why it agreed to such a small settlement, but because it did not, it was important that the relevant facts were noted.
FTC spokesman Mitchell Katz had no comment on the case.
Mr. Diller said the original infraction cited by the FTC was a technical failure to file by USA Networks in 1998 in connection with a transaction that initially was below the thresholds of the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act of 1976. Once USA Networks discovered that the transaction value had increased during the process, he said the company “promptly notified the FTC, and filed immediately thereafter at the FTCs’ request.”
With regard to the Coca-Cola purchases, Mr. Diller said he made those in his personal capacity and was not aware of the necessity to file. But, he said, he did so after becoming aware of the requirement and did so “promptly.”
“I gained no advantage of any kind and there was no harm to Coca-Cola shareholders, nor to anyone else,” he said. “While I am surely not suffering, one can fairly question the tactics used by the FTC in penalizing individuals for de minimis open market share purchases and inadvertent paper shuffling.”
The Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, at the request of the FTC, filed a civil antitrust lawsuit against Mr. Diller in U.S. District Court in Washington, saying he violated the notification requirements of the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act. At the same time, the department filed a proposal that, if approved by the court, will settle the charges.
At the time of Mr. Diller’s violations, his holdings ranged from $63.4 million to $68.2 million and are currently $70.9 million, the Justice Department said.
Mr. Diller, 71, a billionaire, is the chairman and a senior executive of IAC/InterActiveCorp, a giant media and Internet company with more than 150 brands and products.