Improperly Allocating Broken Deal Expenses

The Securities and Exchange Commission has been looking at fees and expenses at private equity funds for several years. Two years ago it brought a case against Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. for misallocating more than $17 million in “broken deal” expenses to its private equity funds. An SEC investigation found that from 2006 to 2011, KKR incurred $338 million in broken deal or diligence expenses.  Even though KKR’s co-investors, including KKR executives, participated in the firm’s successful transactions efforts, KKR largely did not allocate any portion of these broken deal expenses to them.

The SEC just brought a similar case against Platinum Equity. According to the SEC’s order, from 2004 to 2015, Platinum’s funds invested in 85 companies, in which co-investors connected with Platinum also invested. Platinum incurred broken deal expenses that were paid by the funds. While the co-investors participated in Platinum’s successful transactions and benefited from Platinum’s sourcing of the transactions, Platinum did not allocate any of the broken deal expenses to the co-investors.

Platinum did not have a standing co-investment vehicle. Platinum used a separate investment vehicle to co-invest in each transaction. While there was some overlap in the co-investors from deal to deal (officers, directors, executives, and employees of Platinum), the co-Investors varied from transaction to transaction. The co-investment vehicles required payments of a pro-rata share of expenses related to the investment. There was no arrangement for Platinum to charge co-investors for broken deal expenses.

It’s tough to address the broken deal expenses for co-investments. There is no vehicle to create the contractual obligation for reimbursement. Of course, it is not right for the fund investors to bear all of the costs if the fund manager is having so many co-investments.

At least it’s not right if it’s not disclosed in the fund documents. That is what the SEC pointed out in the order. The allocation of the broken deal expenses to the fund was not disclosed in the fund documents. That could be fixed by stating that the fund pays for the broken deal expenses even when there are co-investors. Assuming you can get investors to agree to that.

This is also the first case I have noticed that the SEC has self-imposed the Kokesh limitation on disgorgement. The Kokesh case said the the SEC’s power of disgorgement was limited to going back five years. Even though Platinum was improperly allocating expenses back to 2004, the disgorgement only goes back five years to 2012.