September 25th

A billion dollar fortune, and no prenup?

Reuters: U.S. oil baron rewrites his company’s history; move could stave off record divorce payout
A special report by Reuters this morning reports that Continental Resources changed its website to downplay successes under CEO Harold Hamm, which may be a strategy for Hamm to avoid a divorce payout in the billions. The divorce trial of one of America’s wealthiest men, oil baron Hamm, plays out mostly in secret here at the Oklahoma County Courthouse. But an examination of the website of the company Hamm founded, Continental Resources Inc, reveals part of the billionaire’s legal strategy as he seeks to avoid what could be the largest divorce award in U.S. history.

Publicly traded Continental has been revising its corporate annals – in each case diminishing the company’s accomplishments under Hamm’s leadership or changing the dates of key achievements. Downplaying his role in Continental’s success is central to Hamm’s chances of minimizing the financial blow from his divorce, lawyers say. According to state law, if Hamm can show that market conditions – rather than his management prowess – led to Continental’s financial success, he won’t have to share those gains with his estranged wife, Sue Ann. The two never signed a prenuptial (prenup) agreement.

Reporters compared Continental’s current corporate website – www.contres.com – with a version from early this year. The analysis was done using the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, a repository of past web pages. The comparison identified 18 separate items that had been recently deleted, added or revised. The changes included:

• Altering a claim that the company was first to “discover” an important oil field near the massive formation known as the Bakken Shale.

• Striking all references to Continental being “first” to successfully use or develop new technology that helped it find or pump more oil.

• Backdating the company’s hugely profitable decision to shift its exploration focus from natural gas to oil – to before Hamm’s 1988 marriage to Sue Ann. If that decision came prior to the Hamm marriage, then Sue Ann may not be entitled to reap part of the reward.

• Adding a date for when Continental moved into its most profitable drilling area. The company’s website now says that the firm moved into the Williston Basin, which straddles North Dakota and Montana, a year before the Hamms were married. The company also deleted an item that said Continental expanded into the Rocky Mountain region in 1993.

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