A federal judge yesterday gave the government a victory in its attempt to find out how the billionaire Hunts of Texas put together their massive silver deals, rejecting a major part of an attempt by the family to block the probe.
U.S. District Court, Judge Robert Porter in Dallas dismissed two of three claims the Hunts had made against the wide-ranging investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and dissolved most of a temporary restraining order which had halted the SEC's probe since April 6.
In effect, what the judge does is to allow the SEC to move forward under a single restraint -- that it not violate the federal Right to Financial Privacy Act, a newly enacted law that protects the confidentiality of personal financial information.
Otherwise the agency can continue its inquiry into whether Nelson Bunker Hunt, W. Hubert Hunt or any other members of the family of H. L. Hunt broke the law in acquiring 63 million ounces of silver, the largest accumulation in the world.
The SEC has focused on whether the Hunt's dealings with brokers and banks during their silver-buying spree last year threatened those institutions' financial standing, thus indirectly threatening the finances of other customers.
The Hunts' moves in the silver market lead to its collapse last March 27.
SEC attorneys have broadened the investigation to include an examination of the Hunts' dealings with four of Wall Street's biggest brokerage houses, several precious-metal dealers and 30 banks in the U.S., Canada, Germany and Switzerland.
The Hunts had claimed that the SEC was out of bounds, infringing on the juridiction of the Commodities Future Trading Commission and exceeding the SEC's own investigative management. Judge Porter dismissed those two claims, although he did not rule out the Hunts raising them again in another setting.
He set a hearing on April 20 on a third claim, that the SEC was violating the family's federally protected right to financial privacy. In the meantime, a temporary restraining order covering that issue remains in effect. The SEC has said that it dropped the aspects of the probe that prompted that claim.
"We're construing it as a win," said Tom Whitaker, vice president of Hunt Energy and a spokesman for the massively wealthy family.