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Buffett Denies Rumors He Is Seeking to Buy Burger King Chain

The billionaire investor responds to newspaper ad, accusing others of spreading false reports.

November 28, 2002|Barry Bedlan | Associated Press

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett doused speculation that he was exploring buying fast-food giant Burger King and accused others of spreading false reports.

"Obviously there are people, sometimes, who have a financial interest in spreading rumors in our supposed interest in a business or security when no such interest exists," Buffett said Wednesday.

Berkshire Hathaway Inc., the Omaha-based company headed by Buffett, had been mentioned as being among possible bidders for the Miami-based Burger King chain of restaurants.

The chain is being sold by its parent company, Diageo of London, which wants to concentrate on its beverage business.

Buffett and other Berkshire Hathaway officials in recent weeks have declined to comment on what they described as "only speculation."

Buffett said he was forced to comment on the Burger King reports after cholesterol fighter Phil Sokolof ran an ad in the Omaha World-Herald on Tuesday asking Buffett not to purchase the restaurant chain. An Omaha businessman, Sokolof has spent millions of dollars urging people to stay away from fatty food.

"We never confirm nor deny such rumors. In this case, we made an exception because of Phil Sokolof's ad," Buffett said.

"This should emphasize the need for readers of rumors to be suspicious and for the press to properly label rumors as rumors."

Diageo spokeswoman Isabel Thomas said the company would not have a comment in response to Buffett's statements.

Diageo agreed in July to sell Burger King to a U.S. investor consortium -- comprising Texas Pacific Group, Bain Capital and Goldman Sachs Capital Partners -- for $2.26 billion. But the U.S. investors have since insisted on more attractive terms.

Sokolof said Tuesday that he had been considering running his ad in other publications if Buffett pursued a deal for Burger King.

In the ad, Sokolof said that buying Burger King would compromise Buffett's integrity and soil the image of Berkshire Hathaway.

Sokolof did not return a telephone call seeking comment Wednesday.

Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway already has invested in the fast-food industry. The com- pany owns Dairy Queen and holds some shares in McDonald's Corp.

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