Tuesday, January 29, 2008
By DAVID KOENIG, AP Business Writer
DALLAS —A Dell Inc. director and former president of AT&T has been ordered to pay $12 million to what is left of an Internet company that he headed until shortly before it filed for bankruptcy.
Alex J. Mandl was ordered last week to pay the creditor trustee of Teligent Inc. over a loan that the company agreed to forgive four days before seeking bankruptcy protection in 2001.
Mandl is currently the non-executive chairman of European digital-security company Gemalto NV.
Teligent was a start-up company based in Vienna, Va., that provided wireless phone and Internet service to business customers using a network of rooftop microwave satellite dishes and fiber-optic cables.
The company became a casualty of the dot-com meltdown. It tried to reorganize under bankruptcy protection, but eventually was sold piecemeal.
The trustee for Teligent’s estate sued to recover the loan, which was originally worth $15 million and later reduced to $12 million. The trustee said Mandl was getting $600,000 per year in amortized payments.
A non-jury trial was held last April. Last week, Stuart M. Bernstein, the chief U.S. bankruptcy judge for the southern district of New York, ordered Mandl to pay creditor trustee Savage & Associates P.C. $12.04 million and several years of interest on $40,105 of the judgment.
The case boiled down to the circumstances of Mandl’s departure from Teligent. He testified he was forced out, which would have bolstered his claim that the loan should be forgiven under a separation agreement that Teligent’s general counsel signed four days before the bankruptcy filing.
But the judge said Mandl was more truthful when he told a reporter in 2001 that it was his decision to leave. Resigning made the loan due, he ruled.
The judge, however, denied the trustee’s request for interest on the full $12 million, and lawyer Denise Savage has filed a motion to appeal that part of the ruling.
Mandl’s attorney, Robert N. Michaelson, said he also may appeal depending on the outcome of other post-trial motions that he plans to file. He declined to elaborate.
Remi Calvet, a spokesman for Gemalto, said the case “is purely a private issue regarding Alex Mandl which has nothing to do whatsoever with Gemalto.”
Mandl was president and chief operating officer at AT&T Inc. before joining Teligent in 1996. His defection from one of the Baby Bells for a startup shocked the telecommunications industry.
After Teligent’s collapse, he became CEO of Gemplus International SA, a maker of smart cards, from 2002 to 2006.
The Gemplus appointment was controversial, with one director accusing Mandl of failing to disclose ties to a CIA-backed venture capital fund. But Mandl prevailed with backing from a key shareholder, Fort Worth-based private equity firm Texas Pacific Group.
One of TPG’s founders, David Bonderman, is a member of the Gemalto board now led by Mandl.
Mandl has belonged to several corporate boards himself. He left the board of Pfizer Inc. in 2002, but remains a director at Dell and shipping company Horizon Lines Inc.
A Dell spokesman said the Round Rock-based computer company would have no comment on the bankruptcy court ruling.
Michael J. Venditto, a bankruptcy lawyer not involved in the case, said loans like Mandl’s are common in executive contracts and typically require the official to repay the loan if he leaves within a short time. He said Mandl’s mistake was telling the reporter that it was his decision to leave Teligent _ an apparent effort to put the best spin on the situation.
“Sometimes when you engage in public relations or damage control,” Venditto said, “you get yourself in a pickle.”
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