Wednesday, July 7, 2010
The SEC's next Open Meeting is scheduled for July 14, 2010. It will consider whether to issue a concept release to solicit public comment as to whether the Commission should consider revisions to its rules to promote greater efficiency and transparency in the U.S. proxy system and enhance the accuracy and integrity of the shareholder vote.
The SEC today charged Italian company ENI, S.p.A. and its former Dutch subsidiary Snamprogetti Netherlands B.V. with multiple violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) in a bribery scheme that included deliveries of cash-filled briefcases and vehicles to Nigerian government officials to win construction contracts. Snamprogetti and ENI will jointly pay $125 million to settle the SEC's charges, and Snamprogetti will pay an additional $240 million penalty to settle separate criminal proceedings announced today by the U.S. Department of Justice.
ENI and Snamprogetti are the latest to be charged in the decade-long Nigerian bribery scheme conducted by a joint venture of companies that also included Technip and KBR, Inc., both named in previous SEC enforcement actions. Technip, KBR and its former parent Halliburton Company paid a combined $917 million to settle FCPA charges. The $365 million to be paid by ENI and Snamprogetti brings the total sanctions against the companies involved in the scheme to more than $1.28 billion.
According to the SEC's complaint against ENI and Snamprogetti, filed today in federal district court in Houston, senior executives at Snamprogetti and the other joint venture companies authorized the hiring of two agents, a U.K. solicitor and a Japanese trading company, through which more than $180 million in bribes were funneled to Nigerian government officials to obtain several contracts to build liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities on Bonny Island, Nigeria. The Nigerian government exercised majority control over the company that awarded the contracts — Nigeria LNG Ltd.
Without admitting or denying the SEC's allegations, Snamprogetti has consented to the entry of a court order permanently enjoining it from violating the anti-bribery and recordkeeping and internal controls provisions in Sections 30A and 13(b)(5) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 13b2-1, and ENI has consented to the entry of a court order permanently enjoining it from violating the recordkeeping and internal controls provisions in Sections 13(b)(2)(A) and 13(b)(2)(B) of the Exchange Act. Snamprogetti and ENI also consented to the entry of court orders that require them, jointly and severally, to pay $125 million in disgorgement. The proposed settlements are subject to court approval.
In the related criminal proceeding announced today, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a criminal action against Snamprogetti, charging one count of conspiring to violate the FCPA and one count of aiding and abetting violations of the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA. Snamprogetti has entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the DOJ and agreed to pay a criminal penalty of $240 million.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Regulating Risk by 'Strengthening Corporate Governance' , by Paul Rose, Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, was recently posted on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
This paper, presented at the “Regulating Risk” symposium at the University of Connecticut School of Law, April 16, 2010, briefly reviews the connection between risk and corporate governance, then examines the “strengthening corporate governance” provisions of Subtitle G of the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010 (also known as the “Dodd Bill”). The corporate governance provisions, covering majority voting for director elections, proxy access, and the separation of the roles of CEO and chairman of the board, seem likely to have one of two possible effects. On the one hand, the provisions may be pernicious, in that they further enhance shareholder power without a clear justification for increased shareholder power, and more particularly without a justification for shareholder power as a risk management device. Indeed, the Dodd Bill’s corporate governance provisions may work at cross-purposes to the risk management intent of the remainder of the Dodd Bill: the corporate governance provisions operate under the assumption that enhanced shareholder power will result in better monitoring of managerial behavior, which presumably will help to prevent future crisis, but both theory and evidence suggests that diversified shareholders generally prefer companies to take risks that other constituencies (including taxpayers) would not prefer.
On the other hand, the Dodd Bill may have very little effect on investor behavior or risk management. Increases in shareholder power over the past years (fundamentally the result of increased federal regulation) have made management more responsive to - and in some cases probably overly responsive to - shareholder concerns over agency costs. Indeed, some of the proposed reforms already have been or were likely to have been put in place at most public companies. If private ordering is already working, what is the point of imposing strict governance constructs across the market as a whole, especially when most of the affected firms are victims of, rather than contributors to, the Financial Crisis?
Resetting the Trigger on the Poison Pill: Selectica's Unanticipated Consequences, by Paul H. Edelman, Vanderbilt Law School, and Randall S. Thomas, Vanderbilt Law School, was recently posted on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
The Delaware Chancery Court recently applied the Unitrin case to uphold the validity of an NOL Rights Plan with a 5 percent trigger level in Selectica, Inc. v. Versata Enterprises, Inc. The Chancery Court’s ruling is sufficiently expansive that it sanctions the reduction of Rights Plans’ trigger levels to 5 percent at all Delaware corporations. Using a weighted voting model, we show that such an across the board reduction of trigger levels would have important, unanticipated consequences. In particular, we demonstrate that it would favor hedge funds and private equity firms at the expense of strategic acquirers, and that it would greatly increase the power of third party proxy voting advisors. We conclude that the Delaware Supreme Court should consider these unintended side effects in crafting its decision in this case, and that it should adopt an expansive reading of the meaning of preclusive defensive tactics based on its earlier precedent in Unitrin and Moran.
Insider Trading Inside the Beltway, by Stephen M. Bainbridge, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law, was recently posted on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
A 2004 study of the results of stock trading by United States Senators during the 1990s found that that Senators on average beat the market by 12% a year. In sharp contrast, U.S. households on average underperformed the market by 1.4% a year and even corporate insiders on average beat the market by only about 6% a year during that period. A reasonable inference is that some Senators had access to – and were using – material nonpublic information about the companies in whose stock they trade.
Under current law, it is unlikely that Members of Congress can be held liable for insider trading. The proposed Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act addresses that problem by instructing the Securities and Exchange Commission to adopt rules intended to prohibit such trading.
This article analyzes present law to determine whether Members of Congress, Congressional employees, and other federal government employees can be held liable for trading on the basis of material nonpublic information. It argues that there is no public policy rationale for permitting such trading and that doing so creates perverse legislative incentives and opens the door to corruption. The article explains that the Speech or Debate Clause of the U.S. Constitution is no barrier to legislative and regulatory restrictions on Congressional insider trading. Finally, the article critiques the current version of the STOCK Act, proposing several improvements.