Enforcement Policy Developments

Steptoe’s recent quarterly Investigations & Enforcement webinar, held on May 12, included a discussion on Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) and Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) enforcement trends. In this blog post we summarize the SEC and CFTC enforcement trends, including developments related to insider trading, Regulation FD, climate and ESG, whistleblowers and other trends. For those who missed the webinar, click here to access the recording.

Continue Reading Quarterly Investigations and Enforcement Webinar Recap – SEC and CFTC Enforcement

A court in the Southern District of New York recently issued a noteworthy opinion in addressing a discovery dispute concerning communications between a non-party witness at the center of the SEC’s allegations and her attorneys, to whom she provided false information expecting they would pass it along to the SEC. In denying defendants’ request to examine the witness’s attorneys on these issues, the court held that although certain communications were no longer privileged because the witness waived the privilege and the crime-fraud exception applied, it would limit the extent to which the defendant could examine the attorneys on those communications on the basis of the proportionality requirement under Rule 26. The opinion serves as an apt reminder to defense counsel seeking exculpatory information being withheld as privileged that Rule 26’s proportionality requirement may pose an additional hoop through which to jump, even where arguments regarding the crime-fraud exception and waiver are successful.

Continue Reading Court Invokes Rule 26 Proportionality Requirement as Added Barrier to Discovery in SEC Action

On Wednesday, November 18, 2020, head of the DOJ Antitrust Division, Makan Delrahim, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the DOJ and the Korean Prosecution Service (KPS) that supports increased cooperation between the two agencies in criminal antitrust enforcement and policy development. Delrahim was joined virtually by Prosecutor General Yoon from KPS for the signing ceremony.

In his signing ceremony remarks, Delrahim stated: “The Memorandum of Understanding is a shared recognition of the close ties between our agencies and our commitment to assisting one another in criminal cartel matters… [It] serves to memorialize and formalize what we have been implementing over the past few years.” He went on to highlight DOJ and KPS’s recent collaborations: shared enforcement training, cooperation and coordination on investigations, and exchange of information regarding policy initiatives.


Continue Reading DOJ Antitrust Division, Korean Prosecution Service Sign MOU

In its 2019-2020 Annual Report (the Report), the UK’s sanctions office (the UK Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI)) revealed that, between April 2019 and March 2020, it had received 140 voluntary disclosures of potential sanctions violations related to transactions worth a total of £982 million.  This represents a record number of reports, and an

In what some are calling potentially “radical and seismic changes,” on 3 November 2020, the UK government announced that it had finished a three-year examination of the case for reform of the UK’s corporate criminal liability laws and tasked the Law Commission, an independent body designed to recommend legal reforms, to conduct further analysis and make recommendations for improvement. The Law Commission has said that it aims to publish its recommendations in late 2021.

With some limited exceptions (most notably, the section 7 offence under the UK Bribery Act 2010 and the facilitation of tax evasion offences under the UK Criminal Finances Act 2017), corporate criminal liability in the UK is based on the “identification principle.” This principle provides that a company can only be held criminally liable for financial crime offences if prosecutors can prove beyond reasonable doubt that the “directing mind and will” of the company committed or was aware of the misconduct.


Continue Reading The UK (Slowly) Inches Toward Corporate Criminal Liability Reform

There have been two moves in SEC leadership over the last week that warrant attention.

First, last week, the SEC announced that Division of Enforcement Co-Director Steven Peikin will leave the agency at the end of this week. Stephanie Avakian, who has served alongside Mr. Peikin as Co-Director, will remain Director upon Mr. Peikin’s departure.

During his three years of service as Co-Director, Mr. Peikin, together with Avakian, established the agency’s Cyber Unit, increased retail investor protections, and recently created the Coronavirus Steering Committee to combat COVID-related fraud.


Continue Reading SEC Leadership Changes Are Afoot

The Financial Reporting Council (FRC) is an independent regulatory body in the U.K. and Republic of Ireland (ROI) responsible for regulating auditors, accountants and actuaries. The FRC and its subsidiaries also play important roles in the oversight and development of corporate governance standards in the U.K. and ROI, such as the U.K. Corporate Governance and Stewardship Codes and the general standards for the accounting industry.

Founded in 1990, the FRC historically has tended to attract less attention than some of the better known and better funded U.K. enforcement bodies including the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) which regulates the U.K. financial services authority and Serious Fraud Office (SFO) which investigates and prosecutes serious or complex fraud and corruption in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  But any complacency or ignorance of the significance or broad range of powers and sanctions at the FRC’s disposal may come at a significant cost – the FRC’s enforcement activities are on the increase and the entity is becoming a major player in the U.K. regulatory environment.

The provisions governing FRC enforcement were originally set out in an Accountancy Scheme and Actuarial Scheme (the Schemes) – contractual arrangements between the FRC and the various accountancy and actuarial professional bodies.  Following the implementation of EU legislation in June 2016, however, a new Audit Enforcement Procedure (AEP) is used for all new audit matters.  The Accountancy Scheme continues to be used for non-audit matters and audit investigations that commenced before June 2016 while the Actuarial Scheme continues to be used for all actuarial investigations.


Continue Reading The Financial Reporting Council’s Bite Proves Worse than its Bark

In a speech on the Senate floor last week, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) announced that he plans to introduce legislation aimed at limiting the scope of the Department of Justice’s False Claims Act dismissal authority. Specifically, Sen. Grassley’s anticipated legislation would require DOJ to state its reasons and provide whistleblowers who bring the cases an opportunity to be heard by the court whenever DOJ moves to dismiss a qui tam False Claims Act case.

Sen. Grassley, the author of the 1986 amendments to the FCA, described DOJ’s practice of dismissing charges in many of the FCA cases brought by whistleblowers as “especially ironic,” given the “massive increase” in government funding related to the COVID-19 response that has “created new opportunities for fraudsters trying to cheat the government.” According to Sen. Grassley, “[if] there are serious allegations of fraud against the government, the Attorney General should have to state the legitimate reasons for deciding not to pursue them in court.” Courts have been split on the justification DOJ must provide in moving to dismiss a case, with some courts ruling that DOJ has “virtually unfettered discretion” to dismiss qui tam suits, while other holding that DOJ must provide a “legitimate reason” for dismissal. Courts falling in the latter camp have set forth varying standards for how thorough DOJ must be in justifying a motion to dismiss a qui tam case. Sen. Grassley indicated that his proposed legislation would clarify these ambiguities and rein in DOJ’s dismissal authority.


Continue Reading Senator Grassley May Seek Limits on DOJ’s Authority to Dismiss Qui Tam FCA Complaints

On July 3, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued the second edition of the Resource Guide to the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (the 2020 Guide), the first full-scope overhaul of the Resource Guide since its issuance in 2012. As with the original edition, the 2020 Guide

On June 22, 2020 the Department of Justice Antitrust Division (Antitrust Division) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that they had signed an interagency Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to allow for more cooperation and communication between the two agencies.

Although these agencies have worked together in the past, this is the first time the Antitrust Division and the SEC have entered into a formal agreement. The agencies hope that this agreement will improve competition in the securities industry. As SEC Chairman Jay Clayton explained, “As competition is embedded in our securities laws, there are many policy areas where the missions of the SEC and DOJ’s Antitrust Division align, but where our respective areas of expertise differ. By formalizing the exchange of knowledge between our agencies, we aim to foster even greater collaboration and cooperation to ensure that we maintain the efficient and competitive markets that American investors rely on.”


Continue Reading New Cooperation Agreement Between the DOJ Antitrust Division and SEC