Altran shares plunge on discovery of forged orders at Aricent

(Reuters) - French technology consultancy Altran ALTT.PA said on Friday it had uncovered $10 million in false purchasing orders at recently acquired U.S. business Aricent, sending its own shares down as much as 30 percent.

Altran, which acquired its U.S. competitor in a $2 billion deal from investors led by private equity fund KKR KKR.N, said it had found forged orders linked to an individual employee that had inflated Aricent's reported revenue and profit.

The French firm said it “does not expect a material impact” on its own first-half results from the forgery, which occurred before the March 21 closing of the acquisition.

Its shares nonetheless fell sharply to their lowest in three years on Friday, and were 18.3 percent down on Thursday’s close at 9.79 euros as of 0800 GMT.

After adjustment for the forged orders, Aricent’s operating margin amounted to 15.6 percent for the 12 months to June, Altran said. The U.S. business had previously recorded an 18.7 percent pro-forma margin for the year to September 2017.

The disclosure deals a further setback to Altran, whose stock has been under pressure since the deal was announced last November, when analysts raised concerns over the rights issue and the size of the acquisition.

Altran said it was in contact with insurers and suggested it could reopen discussions on the terms of the deal. The forgeries have “implications for the price we paid”, Chief Executive Dominique Cerutti told analysts on a call. He declined to elaborate.

A KKR representative in Paris did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

“We are pursuing the individual (behind) the forgery,” Cerutti said, adding that the purchase orders were related to one U.S. client. The company is also carrying out further audits to ensure that the case was isolated.

Reporting by Charlotte Steenackers; Additional reporting by Gwenaelle Barzic and Laurence Frost; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Richard Lough