Texas billionaire Nelson Bunker Hunt, already under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, yesterday filed a report with the agency which raised new questions about conflicts of interest between the Hunts and the Bache Group Inc., the brokerage house that handled most of the Hunt's silver business.
The report showed Bunker Hunt and his brother, W. Herbert, bought stock in Bache at "the suggestion and request" of Bache officials,placed the orders for Bache stock through Bache brokers and borrowed money from Bache to pay for the stock, putting up Bache shares as collateral for the loan from Bache.
In the filing, Bunker Hunt also acknowledged that he might have violated securities law by not publicly disclosing his purchases of Bache stock.
The law requires any individual or group that buys more than 5 percent of a public corporation to report the purchase to the SEC. In the document filed yesterday, Bunker Hunt said he and his brother Herbert each own 3.3 percent of the shares of Bache, a total of 6.6 percent.
The brothers' holdings have totaled more than 5 percent since Jan. 16., the report said. The law requires disclosure of the purchases within 10 days after the 5 percent threshold is reached.
The Bache shares were purchased through an account owned jointly by Bunker and Herbert Hunt, but Bunker denied he and his brother were buying the stock together.
"Notwithstanding the express terms of the joint account agreement, it was understood between N.B. Hunt and W.H. Hunt that one-half of each purchase in the joint account was owned by N.B. Hunt and one half separately owned by W.H. Hunt," the SEC filing stated.
The report said Bunker "does not concede" that he violated the law. "On the other hand, he recognizes that in this area of the law different parties may interpret the relevant facts as calling for different legal conclusions."
The Hunts already have lost one fight with federal regulators over whether family members were acting as a group when several of them made the same investment. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission cited Bunker, Herbert and several other family members for violating federal limits on investments in commodities, after the Hunt's allegedly tried to corner the market in soybeans.
The Hunts claimed they were buying soybeans independently because they all thought beans were a good investment, but the federal courts upheld the CFTC's contention they were buying together and therefore breaking the law.
By filing the SEC report now -- almost seven months after the stock was purchased -- Hunt could seek to minimize any disciplinary action by the SEC. It's better to file the report late than not at all, agency official said, but they refused to confirm or deny that Bunker Hunt's report was filed under pressure. Herbert Hunt has make no report to the SEC.
The Hunt's pruchases of Bache stock were reported to the SEC and the New York Stock Exchange by Bache last March, shortly after the price of silver plunged from $50 an ounce to $23, causing a financial crisis for both the Hunts and Bache.
The Hunts had been buying silver on credit through Bache for months and when prices collapsed were unable to pay their debts. Trading in Bache stock was halted for a few days when it appeared the company might be forced into bankruptcy if the Hunts did not find funds to repay Bache. The Hunts eventually repaid all their silver debts, aided by a "1.4 billion loan from a group of banks.
The documents filed by the Hunts suggest that Bache may have warned the Hunts as long ago as February that the joint purchases might violate SEC laws. On Feb. 20, the Hunts wrote a letter to a Bache executive vice president, Charles Mattey, telling him to split the brothers' holdings into separate accounts. The letter said the order was "in reference to our recent telephone convesation relative to the joint account."
Bunker Hunt told the SEC he and his brother began buying Bache stock last October, "following suggestion and request of management of Bache." At that time, members of the Belzberg family of Canada also were buying stock in Bache, and corporate officials feared the Belzbergs might try to buy control of Bache.
The first 50,000 of the 576,000 shares were purchased on margin, with Bache lending the Hunts half of the money forthe stock and holding the shares as collateral the report shows.
The Hunts also used Bache stock as collateral on the loans from Bache to buy silver.
Bache's decision to take its own stock as collateral for a loan is one of the issues under investigation by the SEC. Normally, a stockholder can simply sell stock put up as collateral if the customer cannot pay off the loan. sBut to sell shares of its own stock, Bache would have had to file an elaborate offering statement with the SEC.