Section: BUSINESS,  Page: B14

Date: Saturday, December 21, 2002

PARIS -- American billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros was convicted of insider trading Friday and fined $2.2 million by a French court. Soros said he was ``astounded and dismayed'' and vowed to appeal.

The 72-year-old Soros denied having inside information about a pending takeover attempt of French bank Societe Generale when he traded its shares 14 years ago. ``The charges against me are unfounded and without merit,'' Soros said in a statement. He was not in court for the verdict.

Defense lawyer Bernard du Granrut said the court ``did not acknowledge the essential elements of the arguments we presented.''

The court judgment said Soros had inside knowledge of the takeover bid because the financiers behind it asked him to participate. Soros declined, but then bought 160,000 bank shares for his Quantum Fund and gained $2.28 million from their sale in 1988, the court said.

-- Associated Press


ATLANTA -- Coca-Cola asked a judge to toss out a claim by a water filtration company it owned more than 20 years ago that is seeking $10 million from Coke to pay for legal expenses related to an asbestos lawsuit.

The world's largest beverage maker said it has no past, present or future responsibility to pay for expenses incurred by Milwaukee-based Aqua-Chem Inc.

Atlanta-based Coke bought Aqua-Chem in 1970 because it was interested in the company's water filtration technologies. Coke sold the business in 1981.

A division of Aqua-Chem made a boiler that contained gaskets purchased from outside suppliers, Coke said. Several years after Coke sold the company, Aqua-Chem was sued because there was asbestos in some of the gaskets.

-- Associated Press


STAMFORD, Conn. -- Xerox Corp., which was fined $10 million earlier this year for faulty financial practices, said Friday it discovered an accounting error that resulted in understating its interest expense.

Xerox said the error involved the calculation of interest expense related to a debt instrument and associated interest rate swap agreements.

The error was identified by the company and occurred in January 2001, Xerox said. It resulted in an after-tax understatement of interest expense of $5 million to $6 million, or less than 1 cent per share, in each of the four quarters of 2001 and the first three quarters of 2002.

Christa Carone, a Xerox spokeswoman, said Xerox had $903 million in interest expense last year.

``This is a relatively small number,'' Carone said. ``We're comfortable we're taking the right action to resolve this issue quickly.''

-- Associated Press


PITTSBURGH -- H.J. Heinz Co. announced Friday it had completed a $1.2 billion deal that sends StarKist tuna, 9-Lives cat food and other brands to Del Monte Foods Co. and allows the ketchup maker to concentrate on its core products.

The deal, which was first announced in June, gives Heinz shareholders a 75 percent stake in Del Monte, which will see its presence on supermarket shelves increased with the acquisition of the new brands. Del Monte will also assume $1.1 billion in Heinz debt.

In the deal, Del Monte picks up Heinz's American tuna, private label soup and infant feeding businesses. It also gets Heinz's U.S. and Canadian pet food and pet snacks. Among the products to be transferred are StarKist tuna, 9-Lives cat food, Kibbles 'n Bits dog food and Heinz Nature's Goodness baby food.

-- Associated Press