SEC Requests Public Feedback On Exchange-Traded Products

On June 12, the SEC issued a press release announcing that it is seeking public comment on how it should regulate exchange-traded products (ETPs), on how broker-dealers sell the securities, especially to retail investors, and on investors’ understanding of the nature and use of ETPs. In particular, the securities regulator is requesting public feedback on arbitrage mechanisms and market pricing for ETPs, legal exemptions, and other regulations related to the listing standards and trading of ETPs. Comments will be received for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register.

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Georgia District Court Rules SEC’s Use of Administrative Law Judges In Insider Trading Case “Likely Unconstitutional”

On June 8, in Hill v. Securities And Exchange Commission, Civ. Action No. 1:15-CV-1801-LMM, a Georgia federal judge ruled that the Securities and Exchange Commission’s use of an in-house Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) to preside over an insider-trading case was “likely unconstitutional.” In Hill, after a nearly two-year investigation, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) served Charles Hill, a self-employed real estate developer who was not registered with the SEC, with an Order Instituting Cease-And-Desist Proceedings under Section 21C of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”), alleging liability for insider trading in violation of Section 14(e) of the Exchange Act and Rule 14e-3. The SEC alleged that Hill, using inside information he received, purchased and then sold a large quantity of Radiant Systems, Inc. stock, profiting approximately $744,000. In addition to the cease-and-desist order, the SEC sought a civil penalty and disgorgement from Mr. Hill. The SEC sought to collect the civil penalty through an administrative hearing using an in-house ALJ. Mr. Hill filed this action to challenge the SEC’s decision to use an administrative proceeding, and asked the Court to (i) declare the proceeding unconstitutional; and (ii) enjoin the proceeding from occurring until the Court issues its ruling. The Court granted, in part, and denied, in part, his request.  Read more…

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Net 1 Announces Closure of SEC FCPA Investigation

On June 8, Net 1 UEPS Technologies, Inc., a South Africa-based mobile payments company incorporated in Florida, announced that the SEC had closed a FCPA investigation arising out of a contract with the South African Social Security Agency. The SEC and the DOJ opened parallel investigations in November 2012, and the DOJ investigation remains ongoing. Net 1 has asserted that the investigation was instigated by one of the losing bidders on the contract.

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POSTED IN: Miscellany, Payments

Agencies Finalize Diversity Policy Statement

On June 9, six federal agencies – the Federal Reserve, CFPB, FDIC, NCUA, OCC, and the SEC – issued a final interagency policy statement creating guidelines for assessing the diversity policies and practices of the entities they regulate. Mandated by Section 342 of the Dodd-Frank Act, the final policy statement requires the establishment of an Office of Minority and Women Inclusion at each of the agencies and includes standards for the agencies to assess an entity’s organizational commitment to diversity, workforce and employment practices, procurement and business practices, and practices to promote transparency of diversity and inclusion within the organization. The final interagency guidance incorporates over 200 comments received from financial institutions, industry trade groups, consumer advocates, and community leaders on the proposed standards issued in October 2013. The final policy statement will be effective upon publication in the Federal Register. The six agencies also are requesting public comment, due within 60 days following publication in the Federal Register, on the information collection aspects of the interagency guidance.

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Oil and Gas Company with Republic of Guinea Operations Announces Conclusion of DOJ Investigation

Houston-based Hyperdynamics Corp. announced in an 8-K filed on May 26 that the DOJ had closed its investigation into alleged FCPA violations by the company in the Republic of Guinea.  A parallel investigation by the SEC remains ongoing.  The DOJ investigation was originally disclosed by the company in 2013, and was stated to relate to concession rights and relationships with charitable organizations.

The investigation and declination raise two notable issues.  First, the investigation into relationships with charitable organizations continues the government’s focus on the potential use of charitable organizations to influence acts of foreign officials.  Second, the declination letter from the DOJ to Hyperdynamics was released by the company and noted its “cooperation with investigations,” including through providing information and the results of the company’s internal investigation to the government, as well as how much the DOJ values cooperation.  Recent speeches by the DOJ have sought to reassure companies that extensive cooperation can theoretically result in a declination.

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POSTED IN: Federal Issues, International

SEC Releases Agenda For Upcoming Advisory Committee Meeting

On May 28, the SEC released the agenda for its upcoming Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging Companies meeting, which is scheduled to occur on June 3. The meeting will focus on public company disclosure effectiveness, intrastate crowdfunding, venture exchanges, and the treatment of “finders.” The Advisory Committee also is expected to vote on a recommendation to the SEC with respect to the “Section 4(a)(1½) exemption,” which shareholders may use to resell privately issued securities. The meeting will be held at the SEC headquarters, and is open to the public.

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SEC Imposes $25 Million Penalty for FCPA Violations at 2008 Summer Olympics

On May 20, the SEC announced that it had instituted and settled administrative proceedings against a global resources company to resolve alleged FCPA violations during the 2008 Summer Olympics. According to the SEC’s administrative order, the company invited over 175 government officials and employees of state-owned enterprises, many from countries in Africa and Asia with a “well-known history of corruption,” to attend the Games at its expense. Those who accepted were provided with “hospitality packages” that included event tickets, luxury hotel accommodations, meals and, in many cases, business class airfare. Even though the company was aware that providing high-end hospitality packages to government officials created a heightened risk of violating anti-corruption laws, its internal controls were “insufficient” because there was no independent legal or compliance review of the invited guests or enhanced training of employees regarding the corruption risks. Read more…

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POSTED IN: Federal Issues, International

SEC Publishes Cybersecurity Guidance for Registered Investment Companies and Advisers

On April 30, the SEC’s Division of Investment Management issued IM Guidance Update No. 2015-02 which highlights measures that investment companies and advisers may wish to consider in addressing cybersecurity risks. The guidance urges firms to adopt a three-pronged approach including, among other things: Conducting a periodic assessment of (1) the nature, sensitivity and location of information that the firm collects, processes and/or stores, and the technology systems it uses; (2) internal and external cybersecurity threats to and vulnerabilities of the firm’s information and technology systems; (3) security controls and processes currently in place; (4) the impact should the information or technology systems become compromised; and (5) the effectiveness of the governance structure for the management of cybersecurity risk. Second, creating a strategy designed to prevent, detect, and respond to cybersecurity threats, and third, implementing the strategy through written policies and procedures. The Division’s guidance also warned investment companies and advisers about third-party vendor agreements that could potentially lead to unauthorized access of investors’ information.

 

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SEC Votes to Propose Executive Compensation Rules

On April 29, the SEC voted 3-2 to propose rules that would implement Dodd Frank’s pay-versus-performance provision by requiring companies to disclose the relationship between their financial performance and executive compensation. According to SEC Chair Mary Jo White, the proposed rules “would better inform shareholders and give them a new metric for assessing a company’s executive compensation relative to its financial performance.” All executive officers currently submitting their financials in the summary compensation table must abide by the proposed rules’ disclosure requirements. The rules would require that all reporting companies, except smaller companies, disclose the relevant compensation information for the last five fiscal years; smaller reporting companies will only be required to disclose the information for the past three fiscal years. Foreign private issuers, registered investment companies, and emerging growth companies will be exempt from the relevant Dodd-Frank statutory requirement. The comment period for the proposed rules will be open for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

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SEC Announces Whistleblower Award to Compliance Officer, Over $1 Million Dollars

On April 22, the SEC announced an award of more than $1 million to a compliance officer for providing the agency with information on the company’s misconduct. The Dodd-Frank Act whistleblower regime is designed to encourage employees to submit evidence of securities fraud. When sanctions of a successful enforcement action exceed $1 million, the program allows for up to 30 percent of the money collected to be provided to the whistleblower. Since the program began in 2011, 16 whistleblowers have received upwards of $50 million from an investor protection fund, which was established by Congress and is financed through the monetary sanctions the SEC receives from securities law violators.

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SEC Announces Key Departures

This week, the SEC announced two key senior management departures. On April 7, the securities regulator announced that Andrew Bowden, its current director of the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE), will leave the agency at the end of April to return to the private sector. Since joining the SEC in 2011, Bowden has served as OCIE’s National Associate for the Investment Adviser/Investment Company examination program, Deputy Director of OCIE, and Director of OCIE. The SEC separately announced that Gregg Berman, Associate Director of the Office of Analytics and Research within the Division of Trading and Markets, will depart the agency later this month.

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SEC Adopts Rule Giving Access to Capital for Smaller Companies

On March 25, the SEC adopted final rules to amend Regulation A, a current exemption from registration for smaller companies issuing securities.  The new rules, which allow smaller companies to offer and sell up to $50 million of securities within a twelve-month period – subject to certain eligibility, disclosure, and reporting requirements – expand Regulation A into two tiers for offering securities. Tier 1 allows eligible issuers to sell up to $20 million of securities without registration so long as security-holders who are affiliates of such issuers sell no more than $6 million in securities, whereas Tier 2 permits such issuers to sell up to $50 million of securities yet caps affiliate sales at $15 million. Moreover, Tier 2 offerings are subject to further supplementary disclosure and reporting requirements (e.g., requiring eligible issuers to provide audited financial statements and file annual and semiannual current event reports), and allow eligible issuers to preempt state registration and qualification requirements for securities sold to “qualified purchasers,” as such term is defined in the rules. The new rules will be effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

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Federal and State Agencies Announce $714 Million FX Settlement

On March 19, four federal and state agencies –DOJ, the Department of Labor (DOL), the SEC, and New York Attorney General – entered into a proposed $714 million settlement agreement against a large bank to resolve allegations of fraudulent conduct involving the pricing and misleading representation of a specific foreign exchange product. According to the settlement, for over a decade the bank misled clients about the pricing they received on the bank’s automatic platform used to execute trades on the clients’ behalf. The bank quoted clients prices that were at or near the least favorable interbank rate, purchased the most favorable interbank rate for themselves, and sold the highest prices to clients, profiting from the difference. Under the proposed settlement, the bank will pay (i) a $167.5 million civil penalty to the DOJ to resolve allegations brought under federal statutes including FIRREA and the False Claims Act; (ii) $167.5 million to the State of New York to resolve claims brought under the Martin Act; (iii) $14 million to the DOL for ERISA claims, (iv) $30 million to the SEC to resolve violations of the Investment Company Act, and (v) $335 million to settle private class action suits filed by customers. The bank also agreed to end its employment relationship with senior executives involved in the conduct.

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SEC Settles with Global Manufacturer over FCPA Violations

On February 24, the SEC announced charges against a global manufacturer for alleged violations of the FCPA involving bribes paid by its African subsidiaries in order to make sales in Kenya and Angola. Over the course of a four-year period, the manufacturer allegedly failed to detect more than $3.2 million in bribes paid in cash to employees of private companies, government-owned entities, and other local authorities, including police or city council officials. According to the SEC Order, the manufacturer maintained “inadequate FCPA compliance controls,” allowing improper payments to be recorded as legitimate business expenses, which violated the books, records, and internal control provisions of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Under the terms of the settlement, the manufacturer will pay over $16 million to settle the SEC’s allegations and report its FCPA remediation efforts to the SEC for three years.

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SEC Chair Reveals Rulemaking Initiatives for 2015

On February 20, SEC Chair Mary Jo White delivered remarks regarding the agency’s 2014 accomplishments, including transformative rulemakings and enforcement, and its 2015 objectives. With respect to rulemaking, White outlined three specific areas that the SEC intends to enhance in 2015: (i) reforming market structure; (ii) risk monitoring of the asset manager industry; and (iii) raising capital for smaller companies. She stated the SEC is reviewing the current market structure and operations of the U.S. equity markets and working to “enhance the transparency of alternative trading system operations, expand investor understanding of broker routing decisions, address the regulatory status of active proprietary traders, and mitigate market stability concerns through a targeted anti-disruptive trading rule.” White described the SEC’s current asset management industry as “increasingly complex,” and noted that the SEC is reviewing three sets of recommendations to address this complexity and is paying “particular attention to the activities of asset managers.” Finally, White stated that the SEC will focus on implementing Regulation A+ and crowdfunding, both mandates of the JOBS Act, to assist smaller issuers with raising capital.

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POSTED IN: Federal Issues, Securities