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SoftBank attempted to delay WeWork's $3 billion share purchase - court filing

(Reuters) - SoftBank Group 9984.T CEO Masayoshi Son told the executive he tasked to turn around WeWork after its botched initial public offering to "use whatever excuse" to delay a $3 billion payout to the office-sharing startup's shareholders, a court transcript released on Wednesday showed.

FILE PHOTO: Japan's SoftBank Group Corp Chief Executive Masayoshi Son attends a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo

The transcript, part of a Delaware court filing, provides new details on the decision by SoftBank to scrap a $3 billion tender offer to repurchase stock from existing shareholders, including founder Adam Neumann and employees.

A WeWork board committee that negotiated the tender offer sued SoftBank in April over that decision, accusing the Japanese company of “buyer’s remorse” amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The transcript includes an undated text exchange between Son and Marcelo Claure, who he installed as WeWork’s executive chairman last October.

Claure told Son that SoftBank Group Tokyo had “made a late request” to delay the tender offer payment until April 1, 2020 from Feb. 28, 2020.

Son replied: “It’s great to postpone the close of tender.... Use whatever excuse to make senses [sic].”

Claure responded: “Ok. Will use antitrust. I am turning good at excuses like someone I know very well :)”

The court filing was made by Neumann and We Holdings LLC in an effort to compel SoftBank to produce documents they claim had been improperly withheld.

A SoftBank spokeswoman said in an email: “Cherry-picking quotes from documents doesn’t change the facts: under the terms of our agreement SoftBank had no obligation to complete the tender offer in which Mr. Neumann–the biggest beneficiary- sought to sell nearly $1 billion in stock.”

WeWork did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

SoftBank said earlier this year it would not complete the tender offer because several conditions had not been met.

Among the reasons it cited were U.S. criminal and civil investigations into WeWork, the failure to restructure a joint venture in China, and the pandemic.

SoftBank’s decision frustrated WeWork shareholders expecting a payout. Neumann, who was replaced as WeWork CEO last year, was to have sold the bulk of the shares.

The tender offer was part of a nearly $10 billion rescue package for WeWork negotiated last October and which gave SoftBank control of the company.

Since then, the pandemic has hurt WeWork’s occupancy rates, as corporate clients in big cities escape shared workspaces and ask employees to work from home.

Reporting by Joshua Franklin in Boston and Anirban Sen in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Tom Brown

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