Late last week – for the first time in 40 years – the SEC announced a settlement of an internal controls case against an issuer arising from its repurchase of its own shares. The SEC found that Andeavor bought back $250 million of stock without first engaging in an adequate process to ensure that the

On September 15, 2020, the Securities and Exchange Commission issued a cease‑and‑desist order against Unikrn, Inc. concerning its 2017 initial coin offering  of UnikoinGold .  The SEC found that the Unikrn ICO violated the prohibition in Section 5 of the Securities Act of 1933 against the unregistered public offer or sale of securities.  The SEC imposed several remedies, including requiring Unikrn to permanently disable the UnikoinGold token and a civil money penalty of $6.1 million.
Continue Reading SEC Issues Enforcement Action Against Unikrn, Inc. for its ICO, Prompting Rare Public Dissent from Commissioner Hester Peirce

On July 30, 2020, Italian Legislative Decree no. 75 went into effect, introducing amendments to the Italian Criminal Code and a new set of criminal offences in the context of corporate liability under Legislative Decree no. 231 of June 8, 2001, among which a number of tax crimes.

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On June 22, 2020, the Supreme Court held in Liu v. SEC that the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) may seek, and courts have the power to grant, disgorgement as an equitable remedy for violations of the securities laws. However, the Court also placed potentially important limitations on disgorgement, holding that—to qualify as an equitable

On June 1, 2020, the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (the “Department”) released revisions to its guidance regarding the Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs, which the Department uses in assessing the “adequacy and effectiveness” of a company’s compliance program in connection with any decision to charge or resolve a criminal investigation, including

On April 3, 2020, the SEC’s Chief Accountant, Sagar Teotia, issued a Statement on the Importance of High-Quality Financial Reporting in Light of the Significant Impacts of COVID-19 (the “OCA Statement”).  The OCA Statement emphasizes that while the SEC Office of the Chief Accountant (“OCA”) appreciates the challenging environment that companies and their auditors face in attempting to comply with their financial reporting obligations due to COVID-19[1], and will not second-guess their reasonable judgments, OCA expects financial reporting to continue to “provide investors with high-quality financial information.”  The OCA Statement also reaffirms OCA’s views on the importance of gatekeepers by pointing out the critical need for auditor independence in this uncertain economic environment.  In addition to this general theme, the OCA Statement contains several notable points that will have implications for companies in the current situation, both in preparing their financial statements, and in taking steps to mitigate litigation and enforcement risk.
Continue Reading SEC Chief Accountant Weighs in on Accounting Issues During the COVID-19 Outbreak

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rapidly unfold, with breathtaking effects on everyday life barely imaginable just weeks ago, enforcement agencies have responded with pronouncements prioritizing investigations into COVID-19-related frauds and have proceeded with some significant non-COVID-19 law enforcement actions likely planned before the full impact of the pandemic could have been predicted.  At the same time, enforcement agencies are having to respond to the same practical challenges and constraints that the rest of society and other large organizations around the world face.  They, like the rest of us, are facing severe travel restrictions, learning to work remotely, and dealing with colleagues and family members who are sick from the virus.  Over the coming weeks and months, enforcement agencies will be managing the COVID-19-focused enforcement priorities and moving forward with their existing matters, while they deal with the practical realities and uncertainties presented by the pandemic.
Continue Reading Law Enforcement Priorities and Practicalities During the COVID-19 Pandemic

On March 20, 2020, news outlets reported that four U.S. Senators sold millions of dollars in stock following classified briefings to the Senate on the threat of a COVID-19 outbreak.  Three days later, the Co-Directors of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC”) Division of Enforcement, Stephanie Avakian and Steven Peikin, issued a statement reminding market participants of their obligations with respect to material non-public information (“MNPI”) and of the SEC’s commitment to protecting investors from fraud and ensuring market integrity.[1]
Continue Reading Insider Trading Risk During the COVID-19 Outbreak

The World Health Organization has now declared COVID-19 a pandemic, and as more businesses begin to face the impacts of quarantines and travel restrictions, they may find themselves managing unexpected legal risks.  Among those are risks related to communications with customers by sales and marketing functions.

Those businesses hardest hit in the initial stages of the crisis — e.g., cruise lines, airlines and hotels —  quickly face pressures that raise the risks of private litigation and government enforcement in connection with sales and marketing efforts.  For example, what assurances should sales representatives give in response to inquiries about the chances of contracting the virus in connection with the use of a product or service?  What information should be provided about safety measures being taken?  Do sales commission and incentive programs exacerbate the risks of non-compliant responses, and should they be suspended?
Continue Reading COVID-19 and the Compliance Risks Related to Sales and Marketing Practices

Partially overturning a decision of the High Court, the Court of Appeal held on 18 February 2020 that a company is able to withhold privileged material when responding to a notice from the Financial Reporting Council (the “FRC”) requiring the production of documents in connection with an FRC investigation[1]. The decision has broad implications for the ambit of privilege during regulatory investigations.

The FRC (the UK regulator for auditors, accountants and actuaries) is currently conducting an investigation into Grant Thornton and one of its employees, in relation to its audit of Sports Direct International Plc (“Sports Direct”) for the year ending April 2016. In April 2017, the FRC (pursuant to its powers under the Statutory Auditors and Third Country Auditors Regulations 2016 (“SATCAR”)) notified Sports Direct that it was required to disclose emails and their attachments which: (i) relate to the audit, (ii) are held by one or more of five identified custodians, (iii) are dated within certain specified date ranges, and (iv) are responsive to one or more of 27 different specified search terms. Sports Direct provided approximately 2,000 documents to the FRC in response, but withheld 40 documents on the grounds of privilege (these documents were emails and attachments sent to or by Sports Direct’s legal advisers, either internal or external). The FRC applied to Court to force disclosure of the withheld documents.
Continue Reading UK Court of Appeal Finds That Privilege Affords Protection Against Regulators’ Requests for Documents Unless Overriden by Statute