KOCH brothers announce settlement in legal battles

Saturday, May 26th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Fred Koch's sons are more used to sitting on opposite sides of the courtroom than sitting together at the dinner table. But they tried it this week.

``I know it's going to disappoint a tremendous amount of lawyers,'' Bill Koch said Friday after he and the company his father founded, Wichita, Kan.-based Koch Industries, declared an end to 20 years of feuding and litigation.

But the peace wasn't without lawyers. It came with a Tulsa federal judge's approval of a settlement of an oil-buying case successfully brought by Bill Koch against the company led by his brothers, Charles and David. A fourth Koch brother, Frederick, was not a party to the Tulsa case but had teamed up with Bill Koch in another high-profile dispute.

Bill Koch said it could take a long time to patch up personal relationships. But he, Charles and David managed to share some laughs at Wednesday night's dinner.

``It was the first time we'd broken bread together since, well, since about 1981,'' he said.

Charles Koch was unavailable for comment Friday. But spokesman Jay Rosser said the fighting had benefitted neither side.

``It's clearly been a distraction to our businesses and our company's employees,'' he said. ``There's a sense of satisfaction here that at long last we might be able to devote our complete attention to business.''

The oil tycoons agreed not to disclose the terms of the settlement. But Bill Koch said it included incentives to end the fighting permanently.

``We both have penalties if it isn't forever,'' he said.

Bill Koch, head of West Palm Beach, Fla.-based Oxbow Group, said he sought ``fair financial terms.'' But, with all the brothers now in their 60s, he said he also sought to set aside the personal fighting.

He said he believes he and Charles will treat each other with ``friendly respect'' and is optimistic that he and his twin, David, can become friends.

``I think we all got tired of fighting _ and tired of the expense and tired of the wasted energy,'' he said.

A Tulsa jury sided with Bill Koch when it found in 1999 that Koch Industries underreported the amount and quality of oil purchased between 1985 and 1989 from federal and Indian leases.

U.S. District Judge Terry Kern could have considered as much as $214 million in penalties on 24,587 claims jurors deemed to be false.

That case came on the heels of a 1998 court battle in which Bill and Frederick alleged Charles and David had shortchanged them in the sale of their father's company in 1983. The jury ruled against them.

``My dad used to say it takes two to fight,'' Bill Koch said. ``So many punches get thrown, you lose track of who threw the first one. No one in this whole event wears the white hat, and nobody wears the black hat.''

The stories that drew laughter around the Koch dinner table fit the family theme.

Bill Koch said they recalled how he once substituted for his brother in a basketball game. He had been in the game for just a few seconds when he was tossed out for fighting, he said.

``There's nothing more explosive or worse than blood and money,'' he said.