Owner of Swiss account in Heinz stock trading still a mystery

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Goldman Sachs & Co. has told federal regulators investigating suspicious trading in H.J. Heinz options in advance of the $28 billion bid for the global food giant that it does not know who owns the Swiss bank account used to make the trades.

The Securities and Exchange Commission disclosed the information in a federal court filing in New York.

The agency got a court order Friday freezing the account. Regulators said the account was used to generate more than $1.7 million in profits by trading the Heinz options in advance of the takeover bid. The SEC called the trades "highly suspicious."

The FBI is also investigating.

The SEC does not know who the traders are, but believes them to be foreigners or others investing through foreign accounts. The agency's filing seeking to freeze the account stated the account name included the words "GS Bank" and "c/o Zurich office."

On Wednesday, the SEC filed a statement with the court made by an official of its Los Angeles office who said a Goldman Sachs attorney told her that "the account holder is a private wealth client of Zurich." The official said the lawyer told her the bank "does not have direct access to information about the beneficial owner or owners" of the account.

According to the SEC, the price of each of the 2,533 call options purchased using the account soared from 40 cents to $7.33 following news that Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital, a New York private equity firm, intended to acquire Heinz. The $28 billion purchase price includes $5 billion in Heinz debt the buyers will assume.

Each option gave the holder the right to acquire 100 shares of Heinz stock for $65 no later than June 22. The options were worthless the day before the announcement, when Heinz shares closed at $60.48. But their value soared following the takeover offer, which valued Heinz shares at $72.50.

The SEC stated the options were purchased for nearly $90,000 and were worth more than $1.8 million after the bid for Heinz was announced.

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Len Boselovic: lboselovic@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1941.


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