EBay and Icahn: What’s ‘the Truth About Skype’?

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Activist investor Carl Icahn is continuing to wage his public battle against certain executives on eBay’s (NASDAQ:EBAY) board in advance of an upcoming stockholders meeting. Icahn, who recently took a 0.8 percent economic interest in eBay, has called for board members Marc Andreessen and Scott Cook to step down from eBay’s board and has accused CEO John Donahoe of allowing for the company’s poor corporate governance. “We have found ourselves in many troubling situations over the years, but the complete disregard for accountability at eBay is the most blatant we have ever seen,” Icahn said in the first shareholder letter.

“I have a message for eBay’s board: You may be able to duck and weave when it comes to the media, but in a few short weeks you will have no choice but to face your stockholders at the annual meeting. We all deserve to know the truth about what really happened with Skype,” Icahn said in his latest letter issued to shareholders on Monday.

Icahn issued several letters to eBay shareholders last week, outlining his claims that eBay board members Andreessen and Cook have investments in companies that compete with eBay and are maintaining conflicts of interest that have been damaging for eBay’s shareholders.

Icahn uses what he refers to as “the Skype fiasco” as the reason Andreessen should be asked to leave the company’s board. EBay bought the messaging service Skype back in 2005 and sold a controlling interest in the business to Andreessen’s venture capital firm, which in turn sold Skype to Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) for a huge profit. Icahn believes that eBay shareholders were cheated out of the cash they deserved in the sale of Skype. EBay has claimed that it “explored all possible options” with the Skype sale.

Andreessen defended himself in an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Friday. Though he wouldn’t address Icahn’s claims directly, he said: “If I’m on a public board and that public company is looking at buying a company in a certain space and one of my startups is in that space, I will not be part of that conversation. This has been established over decades of corporate governance and there’s nothing unique to tech about it.”

On Monday, Andreessen finally released his own statement addressing the matter directly. “I dispute all accusations that I have violated any of my duties to eBay shareholders,” he wrote. “Throughout the eBay board’s process of divesting Skype, I fully disclosed my potential interest and recused myself from all deliberations on the transaction, including all discussions, negotiations, and decisions. I was uninvolved in eBay’s decision to spin off Skype and in eBay’s decision to choose to partner with the Silver Lake syndicate.”

EBay and company founder Pierre Omidyar have issued their own statements defending the company’s board members and business practices. The most recent note from the company, titled “The Truth About Skype,” reiterates eBay’s version of what happened with the sale of Skype, and calls Icahn’s claims “false and misleading information.”

Icahn’s end goal is for eBay to spin off its PayPal electronic payments service, which he believes will be much more successful if it’s not owned by an online retailer, as other e-commerce sites would be less hesitant to adopt the platform. Icahn is known for using his strong-arm techniques to influence the companies he has investments in, and he isn’t likely to back down from this battle any time soon. We’ll see which Skype story eBay’s stockholders believe at the upcoming shareholders meeting.

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