According to the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”), deferred prosecution agreements are said to occupy an “important middle ground” between declining to prosecute on the one hand, and trials or guilty pleas on the other. A top DOJ official has declared that, over the last decade, the agreements have become a “mainstay” of white collar criminal law enforcement; a prominent criminal law professor calls their increased use part of the “biggest change in corporate law enforcement policy in the last ten years.”
Posts Tagged ‘Securities enforcement’
It has been reported that approximately two-thirds of companies in the U.S. are affected by fraud, losing an estimated 1.2% of revenue each year to such activity.  Indirect costs associated with fraud, such as reputational damage and costs associated with investigation and remediation of the fraudulent acts, may also be substantial. When and where implemented, an internal whistleblower hotline is a critical component of a company’s anti-fraud program, as tips are consistently the most common method of detecting fraud.  Consequently, it is essential that companies consider implementing, if they have not already done so, effective whistleblower hotlines.  To the extent hotlines are currently in place, companies need to evaluate them to ensure that the hotlines are operating as intended and are effective in preventing and identifying unethical or potentially unlawful activity, including corporate fraud, securities violations and employment discrimination or harassment. This evaluation should be a key element of every company’s assessment of its compliance and ethics program.
Last month, the SEC announced that it brought enforcement actions primarily relating to Section 16(a) under the Securities Exchange Act against 34 defendants. The defendants were 13 individuals who were or had been officers or directors of public companies, five individual investors, ten investment funds/advisers and six public companies.
This post briefly discusses several noteworthy points regarding this development and also discusses practical steps that companies could consider taking in response.
As an echo of the last financial crisis, the two themes that have arguably dominated the corporate governance debate globally are investor activism and corporate governance enforcement. Recent years have seen by all accounts the highest rates of institutional investor activism on a range of issues such as executive remuneration, non-financial disclosure and board composition, and at the same time, increased oversight and enforcement. Stewardship-oriented initiatives and rigorous enforcement activity by securities but also banking sector regulators have seen a level of heightened interest in Europe and North America, and to a lesser extent in emerging markets.
The increasing use of Non- and Deferred Prosecution Agreements (N/DPAs) has enabled federal prosecutors to incrementally expand their traditional role, exemplifying a shift in prosecutorial culture from an ex-post focus on punishment to an ex-ante emphasis on compliance. N/DPAs are contractual arrangements between the government and corporate entities that allow the government to impose sanctions against the respective entity and set up institutional changes in exchange for the government’s agreement to forego further investigation and corporate criminal indictment. N/DPAs enable corporations to resolve allegations of corporate criminal conduct, strengthen corporate compliance mechanisms to prevent corporate wrongdoing in the future, and mitigate the risks that collateral consequences of a conviction can bring for companies, their shareholders, employees, and the economy.
In its landmark 2010 decision in Morrison v. National Australia Bank, the Supreme Court articulated what seemed to be a bright-line test for determining the extent to which the U.S. securities laws apply to transactions with international elements. In so doing, the Court harshly rejected the fact-intensive “conduct/effects” tests propounded several decades ago by the Second Circuit and followed by many other courts throughout the country.
Last week, the Second Circuit got its revenge. In a long-awaited decision in ParkCentral Global Hub Limited v. Porsche Automobile Holdings SE, the court declined “to proffer a test that will reliably determine when a particular invocation of [the Securities Exchange Act's anti-fraud provision] will be deemed appropriately domestic or impermissibly extraterritorial.” Instead, the Second Circuit held that courts must carefully consider the facts and circumstances of each case to avoid the very result that the Supreme Court had hoped to prevent in Morrison: promiscuous application of the U.S. securities laws to transactions that have little, if any, relationship to the United States.
On 23 July 2014, the European Commission fined Marine Harvest ASA €20 million for failing to notify its acquisition of Morpol ASA in accordance with the EU Merger Regulation and closing the transaction prior to receiving the European Commission’s approval. This is the first time the European Commission has imposed a fine in relation to a two-step transaction comprising a sale of a block of shares followed by a mandatory public bid for the remainder of the target’s shares. The level of fine is a further reminder that failure to comply with the EU Merger Regulation can have significant financial and reputational consequences.
Our mid-year report one year ago presented an exciting opportunity to discuss a time of great change at the SEC. A new Chair and a new Director of Enforcement had recently assumed the reins and begun making bold policy pronouncements. One year later, things have stabilized somewhat. The hot-button issues identified early in the new SEC administration—admissions for settling parties, a growing number of trials (and, for the agency, trial losses), and a renewed focus on public company accounting—remain the leading issues a year later, albeit with some interesting developments.
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (“SOX”), the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (“Dodd-Frank”) and the Consumer Financial Protection Act (“CFPA”) impose overlapping anti-retaliation provisions that generally prohibit retaliation against corporate “whistleblowers.” Recent headlines of whistleblower awards granted to individuals, especially under Dodd-Frank, underscore the fact that, even if a company’s economic exposure arising from the alleged violation of these provisions may be relatively circumscribed—generally limited to amounts based on the compensation of the employee who is allegedly retaliated against—the “real world” exposure, in the form of reputational and regulatory risk, can be significantly greater.
In the European Union insider trading has been regulated much more recently than in the United States, and it can be argued that, at least traditionally, it has been more aggressively and successfully enforced in the United States than in the European Union. Several different explanations have been offered for this difference in enforcement attitudes, focusing in particular on resources of regulators devoted to contrasting this practice, but also diverging cultural attitudes toward insiders. This situation has evolved, however, and the prohibition of insider trading has gained traction also in Europe. Few studies have focused on the substantive differences in the regulation of the phenomenon on the two sides of the Atlantic.