Icahn seeks support in case against Steel Partners

BOSTON (Reuters) - Activist investor Carl Icahn stepped up his battle against Steel Partners on Friday when he urged other investors to join him in opposing the hedge fund firm’s recently announced plans to go public.

Investor Carl Icahn speaks at the Wall Street Journal Deals & Deal Makers conference, held at the New York Stock Exchange, June 27, 2007. REUTERS/Chip East

Icahn sent a four-paragraph-long letter to investors on Friday, seeking to rally support and bring new public attention to a private fight that has simmered for weeks.

The billionaire investor regularly takes large stakes in companies and then agitates for change.

Last week Icahn took his first public step when ACF Industries, the world’s leading railcar and railcar components maker which is heavily affiliated with him, sued Steel Partners in Delaware Chancery Court charging that the hedge fund firm had committed fraud.

The lawsuit said Steel Partners was trying to turn its main fund into a publicly traded company instead of selling assets to return the money that investors had demanded to get back late last year when the fund suffered heavy losses. At the time, Steel Partners said it felt the suit had no merit and vowed to contest it vigorously in court.

Before that, Icahn and Steel Partners’ Warren Lichtenstein had spoken by telephone late last year. According to the court documents, Lichtenstein had assured Icahn that he was working on a plan to satisfy investors’ redemption requests, that investors would be informed and that no action would be taken to implement a plan until February at the earliest.

But in a letter sent by Lichtenstein on New Year’s Eve, all had changed, the court papers said, alleging the fund firm pulled a “bait and switch.”

Steel Partners did not return an email or call seeking comment on Friday after Icahn published his letter.

“Steel Partners’ actions to date and plans for the future are significant events for all of us and I strongly believe that we should meet to share our thoughts and concerns,” Icahn wrote to his fellow investors.

Icahn sent the letter via PRNewswire, a news and press release distribution service, because he does not know who the other investors are. Hedge funds are often secretive and fiercely guard both their trading strategies and client lists.

“I look forward to meeting all of you,” Icahn wrote, telling his fellow investors that it would be beneficial for all to exchange ideas and listing two telephone numbers at his office so that a get-together can be arranged.

The lawsuit marks a dramatic dampening in relations between Icahn and Lichtenstein who had been allied only three years ago when they pushed South Korea's top tobacco maker, KT&G 033780.KS, to increase corporate value.

Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss, editing by Matthew Lewis