Shareholders reject bid to oust ICN chief; Panic, other executives are under SEC probe; Pharmaceuticals


NEW YORK -- ICN Pharmaceuticals Inc. shareholders rejected a proposal yesterday from the company's No. 1 stockholder that would have ousted controversial Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Milan Panic from the board by imposing a mandatory retirement age.

The proposal, submitted by Heartland Advisors Inc., won 36 percent of shares cast in a tally counted at the company's annual meeting in New York. To pass, it needed support from investors holding at least 75 percent of its shares.

Panic, 69, would have had to retire next year if the age 70 limit had been approved.

Stock price down 14%

Heartland submitted the proposal because of problems that have caused ICN's stock price to fall 14 percent this year, even as the company's hepatitis C drug appears poised to become a blockbuster.

The troubles include seizure of ICN's biggest plant in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, by the Serbian government, and U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charges that Panic and other executives fraudulently misled investors about an unsuccessful attempt to win U.S. approval for a drug.

"Shareholders are frustrated," said David Batchelder, an activist shareholder who was appointed to ICN's board last month after his Relational Investors LLC bought 1.6 million ICN shares.

Express frustration

Batchelder, who buys stakes in troubled companies and works with them to boost their share price, said he supported the Heartland measure as a means to express frustration with management.

Before the vote, Batchelder said he expected the proposal to fail and that he intends to work with Panic and other ICN officials to boost the stock price, starting with next month's board meeting.

ICN shares fell 62.5 cents to close at $18.75 in trading yesterday.

Pub Date: 9/23/99

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