On September 2 and 3, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced settlements with Pareteum Corporation (“Pareteum”) and Kraft Heinz Co.[1] (“KHC”) for accounting fraud following years of alleged accounting improprieties and financial restatements at both companies.  The underlying facts differed in significant ways, including with respect to the alleged involvement of senior executives, but both companies apparently received cooperation credit for their prompt and proactive remediation and cooperation with the SEC Division of Enforcement’s investigations.  The messaging in relation to the announcement of these cases and their timing, coming in the early days of new Enforcement Director Gurbir Grewal’s tenure, is instructive.  We expect the SEC to continue to focus on accounting fraud and to credit companies who provide cooperation in these challenging and resource-intensive investigations.  To see a meaningful increase in the frequency and nature of cooperation, the SEC would be well-served to provide even more explicit guidance on how cooperation results in improved settlement terms.  That said, these recent settlements are helpful in understanding the benefits of cooperation at this time.
Continue Reading Two Recent Settlements Highlight Heightened SEC Focus on Accounting Fraud and Potential Benefits of Cooperation

On July 29, 2021, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York unsealed a securities and wire fraud indictment against Trevor Milton, the founder and one-time chairman of Nikola Corporation (“Nikola”), a pre-revenue electric- and hydrogen-powered vehicle company which went public through a merger with a special-purpose acquisition company (“SPAC”).[1]  The Indictment alleges that Milton made deceptive, false, and misleading claims regarding Nikola’s products and technology, which were directed at retail investors through social media and television, print, and podcast interviews.  The SEC also filed a parallel civil action against Milton, alleging violations of Section 17(a) of the Securities Act and Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act, and which contends that Milton engaged in a “relentless public relations blitz” on social media and the popular press directed at “Robinhood investors” in order to inflate Nikola’s stock price.

These actions further confirm the heightened law enforcement and regulatory scrutiny of SPACs, as well as continuing interest by government authorities in protecting retail investors in so-called meme stocks.[2]
Continue Reading DOJ Indicts Founder of Nikola for Allegedly Defrauding Retail SPAC Investors

On July 13, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced a major enforcement action related to a proposed merger between a special purpose acquisition company (“SPAC”) and a privately held target company (“Target”).  This followed numerous warnings by the SEC staff over several months of enhanced scrutiny of such transactions under the federal securities laws.[1]  The respondents, except for the Target’s CEO, settled the action by collectively agreeing to civil penalties of approximately $8 million and to certain equitable relief described below. [2]
Continue Reading SEC Brings SPAC Enforcement Action and Signals More to Come

On May 12, 2021, Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson (“Ericsson”) announced that it had reached an agreement to settle a claim by a competitor, Nokia Corporation, for €80 million (approximately $97 million).[1]  Although Nokia’s complaint against Ericsson was not filed publicly, and therefore the details of the claim are not known, Ericsson’s announcement stated that “[t]he settlement relates to events that were the subject of a 2019 resolution with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of investigations into Ericsson’s violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).”[2]  This appears to be a rare instance in which a company that allegedly paid bribes to obtain business from a government entity agreed to compensate a competitor that lost out on the business opportunity as a result of the corrupt conduct, and demonstrates a further, significant risk of follow-on litigation relating to FCPA violations.
Continue Reading Recent Settlement Highlights Risk of Follow-On Litigation Related to FCPA Investigations

On April 29, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) announced settled charges against eight public companies that filed notifications of late filings on Form 12b-25 (more commonly known as “Form NT”) without disclosing in those filings a pending restatement or correction of financial statements.

These settlements are a reminder that filing a Form

As discussed in our prior blog post, earlier this year the Supreme Court vacated and remanded the Second Circuit’s decision in a high-profile insider trading case, United States v. Blaszczak,[1] for reconsideration in light of the Supreme Court’s “Bridgegate” decision in Kelly v. United States.[2]  In Blaszczak, the Second Circuit had previously found that a government agency’s confidential pre-decisional information constituted “property” under Title 18, and that therefore the Blaszczak defendants had committed fraud under the applicable statutes when they obtained the information and traded on it.[3]  However, following that decision, the Supreme Court held in Kelly that a government regulatory interest did not constitute “property” for the purpose of Title 18 fraud statutes.[4]  The Blaszczak defendants filed a petition for certiorari, contending that the Second Circuit’s reading of Title 18 could not be reconciled with the Supreme Court’s holding.[5]  After the Blaszczak defendants filed their petition, the government consented to a remand to the Second Circuit.
Continue Reading DOJ Concedes Error In Title 18 Insider Trading Convictions After Supreme Court’s “Bridgegate” Decision

Last week, John Coates, the Acting Director of the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance (“Corp Fin”), released a statement discussing liability risks in de-SPAC transactions.

The statement focused in particular on the concern that companies may be providing overly optimistic projections in their de-SPAC disclosures, in part based on the assumption that such disclosures are protected by a statutory safe harbor for forward-looking statements (which is not available for traditional IPOs).  Director Coates’s statement questions whether that assumption is correct, arguing that de-SPAC transactions may be considered IPOs for the purposes of the statute (and thus fall outside the protection offered by the statutory safe harbor).  He therefore encourages SPACs to exercise caution in disclosing projections, including by not withholding unfavorable projections while disclosing more favorable projections.
Continue Reading Acting Director of SEC’s Corp Fin Issues Statement on Disclosure Risks Arising from De-SPAC Transactions

The Colombian Corporations Commission (La Superintendencia de Sociedades) (“Superintendencia”) has issued Resolution 100-006261, which requires the overwhelming majority of companies that are supervised by the Superintendencia and engage in international transactions to adopt and implement a compliance program – called a Business Transparency and Ethics program – by April 30, 2021.  The program must be designed to prevent and detect violations of anti-bribery laws, in accordance with 2016 guidance.
Continue Reading Colombian Corporate Regulatory Authority Expands Application of Compliance and Transparency Program Guidelines

On February 18, 2021, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $507,375 settlement with BitPay, Inc. (BitPay), a payment processor for merchants accepting digital currency as payment for goods and services, for 2,102 apparent violations of multiple sanctions programs between 2013 and 2018.[1] The settlement highlights that financial service providers facilitating digital currency transactions must not only establish sanctions compliance programs to screen their own customers but also must monitor third-party non-customer transaction information.
Continue Reading OFAC Settles with Digital Currency Payment Processor for Sanctions Violations

Last month, in Guo Wengui v. Clark Hill, PLC, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia granted Plaintiff’s motion to compel production of Defendant’s third-party forensic investigation report following a cybersecurity incident.[1]  The court held that the forensic report was not covered by the attorney-client privilege or the work product doctrine, providing a cautionary tale for companies conducting post-breach investigations.
Continue Reading D.C. District Court Rejects Privilege Claim for Post-Data Breach Forensic Report