October 1, 2018 / 1:21 PM / 21 days ago

UPDATE 1-Judge says Fresenius can walk away from $4.8 bln Akorn deal

(Updates with share moves, background, and details from the ruling)

By Tom Hals

WILMINGTON, Del, Oct 1 (Reuters) - A Delaware judge ruled on Monday that German healthcare group Fresenius SE could walk away from its $4.75 billion deal for U.S. drugmaker Akorn Inc and rejected Akorn's claim that the merger agreement had been breached.

Delaware Vice Chancellor Travis Laster said Fresenius validly terminated the merger agreement and he found Akorn's representations regarding its compliance with regulatory requirements were "not true and correct."

Shares of Akorn plunged 47 percent in premarket U.S. trading, while shares of Fresenius jumped 7.5 percent.

Akorn did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Laster, who oversaw a five-day trial, wrote in a 246-page opinion that Akorn's "magnitude of inaccuracies would reasonably be expected to result in a material adverse effect," allowing Fresenius to walk away.

Laster also said Akorn breached its obligation to continue operating in the ordinary course after signing the deal.

The judge has said he anticipates one or both sides would appeal his opinion to the state's Supreme Court.

Fresenius terminated the $34-a-share deal in April, a year after agreeing to acquire Akorn. The German company said it had uncovered a history of fraudulent product data submissions by Akorn to U.S. drug regulators.

Akorn responded by suing Fresenius in the Court of Chancery in Delaware, a major venue for merger lawsuits. The U.S. company alleged Fresenius suffered buyer's remorse and that Chief Executive Stephan Sturm came to see the deal as a huge embarrassment and pressed his lawyers to manufacture a way out.

Sturm has diversified Fresenius through a series of multibillion-dollar deals since he took the helm in 2016, and has had to defend against criticism that his team rushed due diligence on Akorn.

The CEO said it only learned of the data breaches after signing the deal. (Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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