ICN Chief's Sale of Stock Raises New Concerns : Finance: Analysts question how Milan Panic was able to give up shares during period in which underwriter's OK was needed.


Stock analysts raised new questions Monday about how Chairman Milan Panic was able to sell $1.24 million worth of his ICN Pharmaceuticals Inc. holdings in November when there was a 90-day blackout on insider trading.

Panic has been in hot water already for selling a chunk of his stock while withholding from the public a letter from federal regulators stating that they were not going to approve ICN's prize drug, Virazole, as a treatment for a highly contagious liver disease.

But analysts questioned Monday whether Panic disclosed the letter's contents when he obtained approval for the transactions from the company's investment banker, Wertheim Schroder & Co. in New York. To sell during such a blackout, an insider must obtain approval from the investment banker.

ICN would not comment on the analysts' concerns.

The company and Panic are already the targets of at least five lawsuits accusing them of withholding material information, breaching their fiduciary duty and wasting corporate assets.

Panic sold 55,000 shares Nov. 29 and 30 after learning that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would not approve Virazole to treat hepatitis C. But the company didn't disclose the contents of the letter or a subsequent one in December until Feb. 17, nearly three months later.

The blackout period was part of the company's $100-million debt offering issued Nov. 10. In the prospectus for the offering, the company agreed that its directors and officers would not sell its securities for 90 days after the offering date without an underwriter's approval. Such agreements are typical in stock offerings.

Wertheim Schroder, one of three underwriters, approved Panic's stock sale of about 19% of his holdings, a spokeswoman for the investment bank said Monday.

"We judged, given the market conditions, that his sale of stock would have no substantial impact on the common stock," said spokeswoman Dabia Temin. She would not say whether ICN told the underwriter at the time that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had denied its Virazole application.

If Panic didn't disclose the FDA's rejection to the underwriters, he should have, said Jim McCamant, editor of Medical Technology Stock Letter in Berkeley. "That's the kind of information that is clearly material and needs to be disclosed," he said.

Analysts also questioned the accuracy of an advertisement that the company ran in the current issue of BuySide magazine, a publication for institutional investors.

The ad describes ICN's application last summer for FDA approval of Virazole to treat liver disease, but it doesn't mention the agency's denial. It also bears analysts' favorable comments about ICN's future, partly based on Virazole's prospects.

BuySide, a Sonoma-based publication, received material for the ad in December, said its editor, Marvin Krasnansky. The issue was mailed to 28,000 readers last week.

ICN spokesman Bob Calef said the company would reserve comment until a committee of outside directors completes its review of the entire controversy. Panic had asked the outside directors two weeks ago to investigate his actions.

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