SEC Opens FIFA-Related Investigations

Although not yet confirmed by the SEC, media reports suggest that the SEC has opened several investigations of publicly traded companies who contracted with FIFA. Indictments in the FIFA cases have alleged that certain companies paid kickbacks to officials of FIFA and related organizations in order to win marketing and apparel contracts. The specific companies targeted in the SEC’s new probe have not yet been named. Without the apparent involvement of a foreign official in the FIFA cases, presumably the SEC will be focusing on the books and records and internal controls provisions of the FCPA, along with other potential violations.

Previous BuckleySandler coverage of this investigation can be found here.

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DC Circuit Bars Retroactive Application of Dodd-Frank Act Provisions Permitting SEC to Bar Association with Municipal Advisors and Rating Organizations

On July 14, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that Dodd-Frank Act provisions authorizing the SEC to punish certain misconduct by barring association with municipal advisors and rating organizations may not be applied with respect to misconduct that took place prior to the effective date of the provisions. Koch et al. v. SEC, No. 14-1134 (D.C. Cir. Jul. 14, 2015). The Koch appeal arose from an SEC finding that the defendants had violated the securities laws by engaging in a market manipulation practice known as “marking the close,” and the SEC’s imposition of sanctions that, among others, prohibiting Koch from associating with municipal advisors and rating organizations. The DC Circuit upheld the finding of violations, but vacated the part of the order barring Koch from associating with municipal advisors and rating organizations on the basis the relevant Dodd-Frank provisions authorizing that sanction had not been enacted at the time of the misconduct. The court determined that applying those provisions was impermissibly retroactive, as there was no showing that Congress intended the provisions to apply retroactively and because it triggered additional legal consequences not existing at the time of the misconduct. The court did not disturb the other remedial orders in the case, including bars to association with other securities industries.

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SEC Settles with Post It-Eating Middleman in Law Firm Insider Trading Case

On July 13, the SEC announced a settlement with Frank Tamayo, who acted as a middleman in a $5.6 million insider trading scheme.   According to the SEC, a law firm clerk used the firm’s internal databases to access confidential information concerning clients’ pending corporate transactions, and tipped Tamayo at coffee shops to the pending transactions.  Tamayo wrote ticker symbols of target companies on a Post-It note or napkin, met a stockbroker in Grand Central Terminal’s main concourse, flashed the Post-It or napkin to the stockbroker, and then immediately chewed up and swallowed it.  Tamayo also conveyed additional information about the pending deals, in total passing information on over a dozen companies.  The stockbroker then traded in the shares of the subject companies on behalf of the co-conspirators and other customers. The settlement involved no monetary penalties based on Tamayo’s extensive cooperation with the SEC.  A $1 million disgorgement as part of the settlement can be satisfied by forfeiture or restitution in a parallel criminal proceeding pending in the District of New Jersey, where Tamayo has already pleaded guilty.

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U.S. Senators Introduce Legislation Seeking to Increase SEC Penalty Amounts

On July 9, U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced Senate bill 1730, the Stronger Enforcement of Civil Penalties Act of 2015 (SECPA), aimed at increasing the SEC’s ability to combat securities’ laws violations to better protect investors and bolster oversight and accountability. Specifically, the SECPA “increase[es] the statutory limits on civil monetary penalties, directly linking the size of these penalties to the scope of harm and associated investor losses, and substantially raising the financial stakes for repeat securities law violators.” In addition, the legislation calls for expanded penalty authority for violations of previously imposed injunctions or bars, and would categorize individual injunction violations as separate charges.

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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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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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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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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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