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Judge grants motion for discovery in lawsuits to block $28B Heinz acquisition

| Thursday, March 28, 2013, 6:18 p.m.

A Federal judge in Pittsburgh on Thursday ordered H.J. Heinz Co. to turn over documents and make CEO William Johnson available for questioning by lawyers for shareholders suing to

block the company's $28 billion acquisition by Warren Buffett and a Brazilian investment firm.

The two shareholder lawsuits against the Heinz board of directors, Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and 3G Capital Management claims that their deal shortchanges shareholders because it keeps other interested parties from offering a higher price for the company.

The order by Judge David Stewart Cercone gives Heinz two weeks to turn over documents and then a week later make Johnson, director Thomas J. Usher, who headed a special committee set up to consider the transaction, and three others available for depositions.

The lawsuits were filed by Hannon's Inc., a Maryland company that owns Heinz stock, and shareholder James Clem, who was not otherwise identified. They contend Johnson, fellow executives of Heinz and the board intend to cash out millions in stock and benefits that are not available to shareholders. Johnson could receive a payout of up to $212 million.

Heinz spokesman Michael Mullen said the company “does not comment on ongoing litigation.” Heinz shareholders will vote on the proposed $72.50 per share buyout on April 30 in New York.

John D. Oravecz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7882 or joravecz@tribweb.com.

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