On November 9, an Atlanta-based claims management firm disclosed that it reported possible FCPA violations to DOJ and SEC. The company discovered the possible violations during an internal audit and has since launched an investigation, using outside counsel and external forensic accountants. The company stated that it intends to cooperate with the SEC and the DOJ in this matter, but the filing did not elaborate on the nature or location of the potential violations.
On November 16, the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower (OWB) issued its 2015 annual report to Congress on its Whistleblower Program established pursuant to Dodd-Frank. According to the report, in Fiscal Year 2015, the OWB received more than 3,900 whistleblower tips – a 30% increase since 2012, which the SEC attributes to increased public awareness of the program due to Dodd Frank’s implementing rule awarding tipsters 10 to 30 percent of a securities violation when the penalty is greater than $1 million. Additional items to note from the report include: (i) the SEC brought its first enforcement action against a company for using language in confidentiality agreements that impeded a whistleblower from reporting possible securities law violations; (ii) the SEC received whistleblower submissions from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, along with tips from individuals in 95 countries outside of the U.S.; and (iii) the most common complaint categories reported were Corporate Disclosures and Financials, followed by Offering Fraud and Manipulation.
Developments in Uzbekistan Telecommunications FCPA Investigations: Dutch Telecommunications Company Makes Provision in Connection with Investigation; DOJ Names Russian Telecommunications Company in Civil Forfeiture Action
On November 3, a Dutch telecommunications company announced that, based on its assessment of ongoing FCPA investigations, it would make a provision in the amount of $900 million in its third quarter financial statements. The company previously disclosed that the SEC, the DOJ, and the Dutch Public Prosecution Service were conducting investigations related to its business in Uzbekistan and prior dealings with a Gibralter-registered company that negotiates mobile phone licenses on behalf of the Uzbek government.
On November 5, another company under investigation for its conduct in Uzbekistan disclosed that the DOJ referenced it in a civil forfeiture complaint. The DOJ’s complaint was directed at an unnamed Uzbek government official, but the complaint alleged that the company and certain other parties made corrupt payments to the unnamed official to gain access to the Uzbek telecommunications market.
On November 2, a pharmaceutical company disclosed that the DOJ requested documents and other information related to the company’s compliance with the FCPA. The SEC is also investigating the company’s compliance with the FCPA, a fact the company disclosed in May. The SEC’s subpoena sought information about the company’s grant-making activities worldwide, specifically naming Japan, Brazil, Turkey and Russia in its request, and also addressed non-FCPA items. The company said that it plans to cooperate with DOJ’s investigation.
On November 12, the SEC named Marc Wyatt as the Director of the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE) and the leader of the agency’s National Exam Program. When Andrew Bowden left the SEC in April 2015, Wyatt stepped in to serve as the agency’s Acting Director. Prior to joining the SEC in 2012, Wyatt was a principal and senior portfolio manager of a global multi-strategy hedge fund and a senior investment banker in both the U.S. and the U.K. In a separate November 13 announcement, the SEC appointed Sanket Bulsara as the Deputy General Counsel for Appellate Litigation and Adjudication, succeeding Michael A. Conley, who was appointed as SEC Solicitor. Former SEC Solicitor Jacob H. Stillman will continue to serve as senior advisor.
On November 5, the SEC announced Bryan Bennett as head of its Los Angeles examination program. Bennett will oversee examiners, accountants, and attorneys based in Southern California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii, and Guam. Bennett joined the SEC in 2008 and was later named manager, leading various teams in the investment adviser and investment company examination program. In January 2015, the SEC named Bennett the assistant director of the Los Angeles examination program. Prior to joining the SEC, Bennett was a litigator in private practice.
On October 20, the White House announced two intended nominations for Daniel Gallagher’s replacement as SEC Commissioner, Hester Maria Pierce and Lisa M. Fairfax. Currently, Ms. Pierce is a Senior Research Fellow and Director of Financial Markets Working Group at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Previously, she served as a Staff Attorney at the SEC in the Division of Investment Management and as Counsel to SEC Commissioner Paul Atkins. Ms. Fairfax is a professor at George Washington University Law School, where she serves on the Executive Board and as Director for Programs for the George Washington Center for Law, Economics and Finance.
On October 13, the SEC announced a $19.5 million settlement with a Swiss bank for allegedly misleading U.S. investors by making false and misleading statements and omissions in connection with the offering of complex retail structured notes. Among other things, the SEC’s Cease-and-Desist Order alleges that, between December 2009 and November 2010, the Swiss bank failed to disclose to investors (i) taking unjustified markups; (ii) participation in hedging trades with non-systematic spreads; and (iii) trading prior to certain hedging transactions. The SEC further alleged the bank’s conduct “negatively impacted or, in the case of trading before hedging transactions, had the potential to negatively impact, pricing inputs used to calculate the” currency index. Without admitting or denying the charges, the bank agreed to pay disgorgement and prejudgment interest of $11.5 million and a civil money penalty of $8 million. $5.5 million of the disgorgement and prejudgment funds will be distributed to investors affected by the bank’s actions. According to the SEC, the action is the agency’s first case to involve misstatements and omissions by an issuer of retail structured notes.
On October 9, the SEC announced that it would not seek further review of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia’s July ruling prohibiting the SEC from retroactively applying the Dodd-Frank Act’s sanctions provisions to violations occurring before the Act’s effective date. Koch et al. v. SEC, No. 14-1134 (D.C. Cir. Jul. 14, 2015). In addition, the SEC further advised that persons subject to an existing SEC order that may be impacted by the Koch decision, because the conduct involved occurred before the July 22, 2010 effective date of Dodd-Frank, may apply for relief from the Commission’s order.
On October 1, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York filed a complaint against New Jersey fund manager William J. Wells charging him with running a “Ponzi” scheme which raised over $1.5 million from investors. According to the complaint, Wells “engaged in a fraudulent scheme to obtain investments by falsely representing that he had achieved consistently positive trading returns in the U.S. equity markets, including through the successful use of options to hedge risk.” Wells allegedly misled investors by claiming that (i) his trading was generating positive returns when it was not; (ii) investors held investments in certain stocks when, in fact, neither Wells nor his firm did; and (iii) sub-accounts had been created for clients, but no such sub-accounts were ever funded. Wells was charged with one count of securities fraud and one count of wire fraud, each carrying a maximum prison sentence of 20 years and a maximum fine of $5 million, or two times the gross gain or loss from the offense.
On September 29, the SEC named William Royer as the Atlanta Regional Office’s Associate Director of the examination program. Since June of this year, Royer has served as the examination program’s Acting Associate Director. In his role, Royer will supervise staff responsible for the examination of broker-dealers, investment advisers, investment companies, transfer agents, along with other SEC registrants. Prior to joining the SEC in 2013 as an Assistant Director within the Office of Compliance and Inspections and Examinations’ Office of the Chief Counsel, Royer worked as a securities attorney in private practice and served as General Counsel for two international investment management firms.
Former Chief Credit Officer Sentenced to Over Eight Years in Prison for Role in Securities Fraud Scheme
On September 1, Ebrahim Shabudin, the former Chief Credit Officer of a San Francisco-based bank, was sentenced to 97 months in prison for his involvement in a securities fraud scheme stemming from the bank’s 2009 financial collapse. In 2008, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) gave the bank roughly $298 million in federal funds. The FDIC took over the bank in 2009 and stated that it was “the ninth largest failure since 2007 of a bank insured by the FDIC’s Deposit Insurance Fund.” In 2013, the FDIC estimated that the bank would accrue losses exceeding $1.1 billion; however, with the United States’ economic recovery, the estimated loss dropped to approximately $677 million. Read more…
DOJ and SEC Announce Parallel Action Against Former Investment Banking Analyst and Two Individuals for Alleged Involvement in Insider Trading Scheme
On August 25, the DOJ unsealed an indictment charging three defendants each with (i) one count of conspiracy to commit securities and tender offer fraud; (ii) 13 counts of securities fraud; (iii) 13 counts of tender offer fraud; and (iv) three counts of wire fraud. In a parallel action, the SEC filed a complaint in the Central District of California against the same three individuals, asserting that the three individuals violated certain provisions of the Securities Exchange Act by participating in a scheme that involved “coordinated, illegal trading in stock and stock options of two separate companies that participated in merger activity” in which the same investment bank played an advisory role. According to the SEC, having learned of impending acquisitions involving two of the investment bank’s clients and other companies, one of the investment bank’s former analysts allegedly provided information regarding the transaction to a friend before any public announcements were made. The friend then communicated the information to a third individual, and the two made a series of trades in the two companies’ securities. When the acquisitions were publicly announced, both companies’ stock prices increased, resulting in profits of more than $670,000 for the two individuals on the receiving end of the former analyst’s inside information. The SEC’s complaint seeks a final judgment ordering the three defendants “to pay disgorgement of their ill-gotten gains plus prejudgment interest and penalties, and permanent injunctions from future violations of [certain] provisions of the federal securities laws.”
On August 25, FinCEN issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeking to adopt minimum Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and anti-money laundering (AML) standards that would be applicable to investment advisers. Under the proposal, investment advisers would be required to implement AML programs and report suspicious activity, among other safeguards. The NPRM states that the proposal would cover investment advisers registered or required to register with the SEC. The proposal would also add such investment advisers to the definition of “financial institution.” This would result in investment advisers being required to file currency transaction reports and to comply with recordkeeping and other requirements applicable to financial institutions. With respect to supervisory authority, FinCEN stated that it would delegate its authority to the SEC for purposes of examining investment advisers for compliance with the proposed requirements.
SEC Sues 32 Defendants Involved in Insider Trading Operation; DOJ Files Criminal Charges Against Leaders
On August 10, the SEC filed a complaint against 32 defendants in the District of New Jersey for their alleged involvement in an international scheme to profit from stolen, confidential information regarding corporate earnings announcements. According to the SEC, the defendants hacked at least two newswire services’ computer servers to retrieve unpublished corporate press releases, subsequently using it to make trades generating over $100 million in profits. The SEC further asserted that the two leaders of the scheme designed a “secret web-based location to transmit the stolen data to traders in Russia, the Ukraine, Malta, Cyprus, France, and three U.S. states, Georgia, New York, and Pennsylvania.” The SEC contends that, for five years, the two leaders of the scheme (i) disguised their identity by posing as newswire service employees, using proxy servers, and/or using backdoor access-modules; and (ii) recruited traders by making a video that displayed their ability to steal earnings information prior to public release. In return for information, the traders paid the hackers either a percentage of the profits obtained from trading the stolen information, or a flat fee. The SEC Director called the scheme “one of the most intricate and sophisticated trading rings [the agency has] ever seen.” The U.S. Attorneys’ offices for New Jersey and the Eastern District of New York also announced criminal charges against nine of the same defendants, including the two leaders of the scheme.