Nov 21, 2023 - Business

Scoop: Forbes deal still hasn't closed after two-week extension

Austin Russell during the Formula One World Championship in October, 2023 in Austin, Texas. Photo: Gongora/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Austin Russell, the 28-year-old CEO of electric vehicle company Luminar Technologies, is trying to replace hundreds of millions of dollars for his bid to buy Forbes, sources close to the deal told Axios.

What's happening: Russell was blindsided by Indian investment firm Sun Group and others who didn't wire the money they were contractually obligated to send on the day the deal was supposed to close, per the sources.

Why it matters: Russell missed a two-week extension deadline earlier this week to get his $800 million bid together. If he doesn't come up with the cash soon, his deal to buy Forbes could be in peril.

  • For now, Russell is still in exclusive negotiations to buy the storied media brand from Forbes' majority owner, a Hong Kong-based investment firm called Integrated Whale Media (IWM).
  • Neither party has officially terminated the deal yet, but sources told Axios IWM is growing impatient with each missed deadline.
  • If either party were to terminate the deal, Axios has reported that at least one other buyer is preparing a rival bid.

Details: Russell was initially planning to close the deal to buy Forbes on Nov. 1. But several investors who had signed contracts confirming their participation in the deal, including Sun Group vice chair Shiv Khemka and others, didn't wire the money.

  • Russell's lawyers sent emails to those parties saying he intends to pursue legal action against them for failing to fund the deal.
  • Khemka, Axios has reported, had committed roughly $300 million to the bid initially, with around $100 million flowing through two of his daughters, who were born in the U.S. and live in New York.
  • His role in the deal had been reduced over time to avoid regulatory scrutiny, but Russell was still trying to replace his capital with money from American investors to avoid any reputational headaches related to Sun Group's ties to Russia.

Between the lines: While Russell's camp had been trying to replace Khemka's capital for a while, they hadn't anticipated needing to replace the capital from other investors who also didn't wire the money, including Nikhil Sinha,

  • Sinha, an American academic turned businessman based in Silicon Valley. was expected to put in roughly $200 million toward the bid, sources told Axios in June.

State of play: IWM granted Russell a two-week extension of the deal's deadline on Oct. 31. That extension allowed Russell's team to collect funds from investors who had previously verbally committed to participating in the deal.

  • Representatives for Russell have said that Russell's bid is "substantially oversubscribed, with over $2 billion of demand" from mostly American investors. But "demand" didn't always mean that the funds were in hand.
  • Sun Group, Sinha and IWM did not return a request for comment. Forbes did not comment. Representatives for Russell did not comment.

The big picture: The deal to buy Forbes has been riddled with drama.

  • Forbes' majority owners have been trying to sell the asset privately for years, and Axios has reported about past conversations the company has had with companies like blockchain software firm and GSV, a Silicon Valley-based investment firm.
  • In 2022, Forbes' majority owners explored taking the company public through a blank check merger. That deal ultimately fell through.
  • Last winter, it was announced that an international consortium of investors was in exclusive talks to buy Forbes after its push to go public fell through. Axios reported that Sun Group was leading that bid.
  • Russell was brought into the bid earlier this year after the consortium realized they couldn't gain regulatory approval for the takeover with Sun Group leading the deal.

What to watch: If the deal falls through, Russell and his investors will have to pay a $35 million breakup fee.

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