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‘It was simply a lucky bet.’ Barry Diller denies accusations of insider trading on Activision deal that netted trio gains of $60 million

March 10, 2022, 6:58 PM UTC

Although they’re known for their business savvy, Barry Diller and David Geffen have found themselves under scrutiny over some recent investments.   

Federal prosecutors and securities regulators are investigating trades related to video game company Activision Blizzard by DreamWorks cofounder David Geffen, Diller, and Diller’s stepson Alexander von Furstenberg, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday citing people familiar with the matter.

Diller, von Furstenberg, and Geffen bought call options to buy Activision shares at $40 on Jan. 14, according to the Journal, days before Microsoft announced that it would be purchasing the company for $95 a share.

The call options give the three men the ability to buy shares of Activision at $40. Based on Thursday’s share price of about $80, the trio has an unrealized profit of about $60 million on the trade, and the options do not expire until early next year, according to the Wall Street Journal

“It was simply a lucky bet,” Diller told the Journal. “We acted on no information of any kind from anyone. It is one of those coincidences.”

Diller, who confirmed to the Journal that he had been contacted by regulators, maintained in a statement through his media company IAC that he, von Furstenberg, and Geffen had no knowledge that Microsoft was planning to acquire Activision Blizzard. 

“None of us had any knowledge from any person or any source or any anything about a potential acquisition of Activision by Microsoft.”

Barry Diller, business mogul

“None of us had any knowledge from any person or any source or any anything about a potential acquisition of Activision by Microsoft,” Diller said in a statement to Fortune. “We acted simply on the belief that Activision was undervalued and therefore had the potential for going private or being acquired. And, if we had any such information, we would never have traded on it. It strains credulity to believe we would have done so three days before Microsoft and Activision made their announcement.”

Geffen and von Furstenberg could not be reached by Fortune for comment.

The Justice Department and the SEC declined Fortune’s requests for comment.

The trio likely spent about $108 million to buy options on 4.12 million shares of the gaming behemoth responsible for titles like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft. The company’s Thursday share price of about $80 makes the bet now worth about $168 million, according to the Journal. As the company’s share price increases, the investors could make even more money.

The Justice Department is investigating whether any of the options trades ran afoul of insider-trading laws, according to the Journal. The outlet also reported that the SEC is separately conducting a civil insider-trading investigation. 

JPMorgan Chase facilitated the trades, according to the Journal, and reported the activity to law enforcement after Microsoft publicly announced it would acquire Activision. JPMorgan is obligated by a three-year agreement to report evidence or concerns about misconduct to law enforcement based on a September 2020 criminal settlement related to market manipulation claims, the Journal reported. 

A spokesperson for JPMorgan declined to comment to Fortune

Diller and Geffen are longtime friends who worked together at the talent agency William Morris Agency, now William Morris Endeavor. Diller is married to fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, and Alexander von Furstenberg is her son from a previous marriage.

Update, March, 11 2022: This article has been updated with a comment from Goldman Sachs.

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