Short-seller target Harbin Electric goes private

Sat Oct 29, 2011 3:30pm EDT

* Chinese motor maker goes private at $24 a share

* Stock fell to $5.82 per share in the summer

By Emily Flitter

NEW YORK, Oct 29 (Reuters) - A yearlong struggle by U.S.-listed Chinese company Harbin Electric to take itself private amid fraud allegations ended on Saturday when shareholders voted to be bought out for $24 a share.

Nearly 91 percent of the electric motor maker's shareholders voted for the deal to merge with privately held Tech Full Electric Co, a company statement said.

Harbin, whose shares closed at $22.55 on Friday, said it expected to close the deal within a week.

"This has been the most bizarre series of events," said Matthew Giffuni of Quadre Investments LP, a Harbin shareholder who voted for the deal, acknowledging the accusations by short sellers were unsettling. "Once they filed the primary proxy, people were more comforted."

Harbin's U.S. stock took a beating earlier this year after analysts at Citron Research, run by California-based investor and notable short seller Andrew Left, claimed the Chinese company overvalued itself in its $750 million buyout proposal and that it had misstated its operating results.

Harbin was one of numerous Chinese stocks listed in North America through reverse takeovers.

A number of the companies were later accused of accounting fraud. Numerous stocks were later delisted and regulators are investigating in Canada and the United States.

Harbin shares hit a 52-week low of $5.82 on June 16 before recovering. They continued to rise but for months were still priced at a substantial discount to the $24 buyout price.

Citron on Thursday officially ended its efforts to force Harbin's shares lower, publishing what it called its "final word" on the company.

Giffuni said he hoped the short sellers would be investigated by the authorities.

"The Justice Department needs to go after this," he said.

The shareholders also agreed to give Harbin's U.S-based executive vice president, Christy Shue, an exit package worth nearly $2.3 million, a company spokesman confirmed.

Around a dozen shareholders attended a meeting at the Park Avenue offices of Loeb & Loeb LLP to vote in person, although not everyone backed the deal.

"They took this company out at fraud prices," said a shareholder who asked not to be named but described himself as "a money manager with a modest position in the shares."

"This represents the weakness and the wishy-washiness of the investors," he said, adding he had wanted a minimum price of $28 a share for the buyout.

Fred Farkash, an individual shareholder, said he was happy with the outcome but disappointed by the meeting itself.

Farkash said he wanted to meet Harbin's chief executive Tianfu Yang but the only executive who attended was Shue. Yang and his board phoned in from China and Farkash said most of the meeting took place in Chinese.

"Tianfu wasn't there, there was no presentation, it was a little disappointing," he said. "But I was well compensated."

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