Wesley R. Bricker to Replace James Schnurr as SEC Chief Accountant

On November 22, the SEC announced that Wesley R. Bricker will become its Chief Accountant, succeeding James Schnurr who will be retiring this year. Mr. Bricker served under his predecessor as Deputy Chief Accountant since 2015 and has been Interim Chief Accountant since July of this year. As Chief Accountant, Mr. Bricker will be the principal advisor to the Commission on accounting and auditing matters and lead the Commission’s Office of the Chief Accountant. He also will be responsible for assisting the Commission with discharging its oversight of the Financial Accounting Standards Board and the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board.

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SEC Hosts First Financial Technology (FinTech) Forum

On November 14, the SEC hosted its first Fintech Public Forum at its Washington, DC headquarters to discuss FinTech and to evaluate how the current regulatory environment can most effectively address innovation in the financial services industry. The event was divided into four panels, which covered the following topic areas: (i) the impact of recent innovation in investment advisory services; (ii) the impact of recent innovation on trading, settlement, and clearance activities; (iii) the impact of recent innovation in capital formation; and (iv) investor protection in the FinTech era. The forum was open to the public and is also available on the SEC’s website.

SEC Chair Mary Jo White opened the forum with introductory remarks. After explaining that “Fintech innovations have the potential to transform key parts of the securities industry,” Chair White highlighted several developments that are particularly important to the SEC, including: (i) automated investing advice; (ii) distributed ledger technology; and (iii) online marketplace lenders and crowdfunding portals. In describing the SEC’s role with respect to such innovations, Chair White noted that the Commission “must ensure new developments are not rushed to market or implemented in a way that facilitates a risk of fraud or harm to investors.” Ms. White explained that she had “directed the creation of a Fintech working group at the SEC earlier this year . . . to evaluate the emerging technologies,” and tasked the group to provide “specific, tailored recommendations . . . about what the SEC should do to provide clarity on existing regulatory requirements and help foster responsible innovation.” Chair White also clarified that the SEC was at an early stage in its outreach to investors, innovators and other stakeholders in new technologies, with the forum being an important part of SEC’s outreach.

SEC Commissioner Michael Piwowar, who championed the idea of the Commission hosting a Fintech public forum, also spoke to attendees. “I believe the commission should take the lead regulatory role in the Fintech space,” Piwowar said in prepared remarks. “Many of the firms pursuing Fintech are already SEC registrants, and others are providing services that are squarely within the commission’s oversight, such as investment advice and trading and settlement functionalities.” Piwowar emphasized the need for clarity in the sector, but added that the SEC is “uniquely situated to determine whether and how Fintech currently fits, and ultimately should fit, within a financial regulatory structure.”

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SEC Chair Mary Jo White Stepping Down

After nearly four years as the head of the SEC, Chair Mary Jo White announced on November 14 that she intends to leave the position at the end of the Obama Administration. During her tenure, Chair White implemented the Commission’s first-ever policy to require admissions of wrongdoing in certain cases where heightened accountability and acceptance of responsibility is appropriate. To date, the Commission has required admissions from more than 70 defendants, including 44 entities and 29 individuals. Chair White’s departure affords President-elect Donald Trump the opportunity to name Chair White’s successor, subject to the Senate’s consent.

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POSTED IN: Consumer Finance, Federal Issues

Israel-Based Pharmaceutical Company Sets Aside $520 Million for Potential FCPA Settlement

An Israel-based pharmaceutical  company, stated in its Form 6-K filed with the SEC on November 15, 2016, that it has set aside approximately $520 million for a potential settlement of FCPA matters being investigated by the SEC and DOJ. The company explained that the reserve relates to conduct that occurred between 2007 and 2013 in Russia, Mexico, and the Ukraine, and that it was discovered in the course of the investigation that began in early 2012 with the issuance of an SEC subpoena to the company, as well as a concurrent internal investigation of its worldwide business practices.

Should the pharmaceutical company enter into a settlement, it will top the growing list of pharmaceutical companies that have been subject to multimillion dollar penalties for conduct in violation of the FCPA, including the following:

  • A $5.5 million settlement in 2016 of allegations relating to bribery of Chinese and Russian doctors;
  • A $20 million settlement in 2016 of allegations relating to bribery of Chinese health care professionals;
  • A $25 million settlement in 2016 of allegations relating to bribery of Chinese doctors;
  • A $14 million settlement in 2015 of allegations relating to bribery of healthcare professionals at state-owned hospitals in China;
  • A$29 million settlement in 2012 of allegations relating to bribery of government employed physicians in Russia, Brazil, China and Poland; and
  • A $70 million settlement in 2011 of allegations relating to conspiracy and bribery of doctors employed by state-controlled health care systems in Greece.
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POSTED IN: Federal Issues, International

Major Global Financial Company Pays $264 Million to Settle FCPA Investigation of its Referral Hiring Practices in China

A major global financial company (“Company”) and a Hong Kong subsidiary (“Subsidiary”) agreed on November 17, 2016, to pay approximately $264 million to the DOJ, SEC, and the Federal Reserve, putting an end to a nearly three year, multi-agency investigation of the Subsidiary’s “Sons and Daughters” referral program through which the children of influential Chinese officials and executive decisions makers were allegedly given prestigious and lucrative jobs as a quid pro quo to retain and obtain business in Asia. The conduct occurred over a seven year period, included the hiring of approximately 100 interns and full-time employees at the request and referral of Chinese government officials, and resulted in more than $100 million in revenues to the Company and approximately $35 million in profit to the Subsidiary.

The Subsidiary entered into a non-prosecution agreement and agreed to pay a $72 million criminal penalty, as well as to continue cooperating with the ongoing investigation and/or prosecution of individuals involved in the conduct. Additionally, the Subsidiary agreed to enhance its compliance programs and report to DOJ on the implementation of those programs. DOJ asserts in its press release that the Subsidiary admitted that, beginning in 2006, senior Hong Kong-based investment bankers set up the referral program as a means to influence the decisions of Chinese officials to award business to the Subsidiary, going so far as to link and prioritize potential hires to upcoming business opportunities, as well as to create positions for unqualified candidates where no appropriate position existed. The Subsidiary also admitted that its bankers and compliance personnel worked together to paper over these arrangements and hide the true purpose of the hire.

DOJ acknowledged that while the Subsidiary did not voluntarily or timely disclose its conduct, in determining an appropriate resolution DOJ considered a number of actions taken by the Company, including the commencement of a thorough internal investigation, the navigation of foreign data privacy law to produce documents from foreign countries, and the provision of access to foreign-based employees for interviews in the US. Additionally, DOJ considered the employment actions taken by the Subsidiary, which resulted in the departure of 6 employees and the discipline of 23 employees.

In connection with the same conduct, the Company also settled allegations with the SEC and the Federal Reserve. In a cease and desist order filed today, the SEC found that the Company violated the anti-bribery, books and records, and internal controls provisions of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The SEC considered the Company’s remedial actions and cooperation with the ongoing investigation, ordering the Company to pay over $105 million in disgorgement and $25 million in interest. Finally, in a consent cease and desist order filed today, the Federal Reserve Board imposed an approximately $62 million civil monetary penalty on the Company for operating an improper referral hiring program and failing to maintain adequate enterprise-wide controls to ensure candidates were vetted and hired appropriately and in accordance with anti-bribery laws and company policies. This order, among other things, requires the Company to enhance its oversight and controls of referral hiring practices and anti-bribery policies, as well as to continue cooperating with the ongoing investigation.

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