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Time Warner settles SEC fraud charges

/ Source: The Associated Press

Time Warner Inc., the world’s largest media company, is paying $300 million to settle fraud charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission for overstating online advertising revenues and the number of its Internet subscribers.

As part of the agreement announced Monday, Time Warner has restated its financial results to reduce the amount of online advertising revenues it reported by about $500 million from the fourth quarter of 2000 through 2002, the SEC said.

Time Warner will neither admit nor deny any wrongdoing under the settlement. However, it has agreed to appoint an independent examiner who will further review the company’s accounting for several previous transactions. That report, which is expected to be done within six months, could result in further restatements.

The details of the deal are in line with a settlement that the company had proposed to the SEC and disclosed last December. At that time, the company also said it agreed to pay $210 million to settle charges of criminal securities fraud in a separate investigation by the Department of Justice.

Together, the two settlements lifted a cloud of uncertainty that had been hanging over the company for more than two years. Time Warner is now hoping to use its improving balance sheet to pursue acquisitions, primarily the cable assets of Adelphia Communications Corp.

“We’re pleased to have resolved the SEC’s investigation of the company based on the proposed settlement announced late last year,” Time Warner spokeswoman Mia Carbonell said. “We’re committed to cooperating with the independent examiner as well as fulfilling all of our other obligations under the settlement.”

Time Warner agreed to be bought by AOL at the height of the Internet bubble in early 2000, resulting in a disastrous merger that shattered the company’s share price. The company’s stock is still about 75 percent below the level it reached prior to the merger.