SEC Director of Enforcement Gurbir Grewal recently delivered this speech to a securities industry audience.
While the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act was not specifically mentioned, the topics Grewal discussed (corporate responsibility, gatekeeper accountability, and remedies) are FCPA relevant.
Regarding corporate responsibility, Grewal stated:
“With respect to corporate responsibility, Congress has enacted many laws and the SEC has adopted many rules to ensure that corporations are being responsible and playing fair. But too often, they ignore these rules and fail to implement sufficient controls or procedures to ensure compliance. In some cases, firms are practically inviting fraud or waiting for misconduct to occur; in others, they are actively covering it up or minimizing it. All of this serves to undermine public trust and confidence. Enhancing it will require, among other things, robust enforcement of laws and rules concerning required disclosures, misuse of nonpublic information, violation of record-keeping obligations, and obfuscation of evidence from the SEC or other government agencies.
We’ll consider all of our options when this sort of misconduct occurs prior to or during our investigations. For example, if we learn that, while litigation is anticipated or pending, corporations or individuals have not followed the rules and maintained required communications, have ignored subpoenas or litigation hold notices, or have deliberately used the sort of ephemeral technology that allows messages to disappear, we may well conclude that spoliation of evidence has occurred and ask the court for adverse inferences or other appropriate relief. These rules are not just “check the box” exercises for compliance departments; they are important to ensure that the SEC and other law enforcement agencies can understand what happened and make appropriate prosecutorial decisions. When that doesn’t happen, there can and should be consequences.”
On gatekeeper accountability, Grewal stated:
“But restoring trust requires more than SEC enforcement actions. We must all work together to ensure that companies are following the rules. And this leads me to my second point: the essential role that gatekeepers like so many of you play.
When gatekeepers are living up to their obligations, they serve as the first lines of defense against misconduct. But when they don’t, investors, market integrity, and public trust all suffer. Encouraging your clients to play in the grey areas or walk right up to the line creates significant risk. It’s when companies start testing those lines that problems emerge and rules are broken. And even if that’s not the case, the public loses faith in institutions that appear to be trying to get away with as much as they can. That’s why gatekeepers will remain a significant focus for the Enforcement Division, as evidenced by some of our recent actions.”
On “crafting appropriate remedies,” Grewal stated:
“Finally, in addition to punishing misconduct, our remedies must deter it from happening in the first place. If the public understands that our decisions are motivated by these principles, it also increases their trust that institutions are playing by the rules and being held accountable when they do not.
When it comes to accountability, few things rival the magnitude of wrongdoers admitting that they broke the law, and so, in an era of diminished trust, we will, in appropriate circumstances, be requiring admissions in cases where heightened accountability and acceptance of responsibility are in the public interest. Admissions, given their attention-getting nature, also serve as a clarion call to other market participants to stamp out and self-report the misconduct to the extent it is occurring in their firm.
Officer and director bars, likewise, are a critical tool in our efforts. The authority to impose them in cases involving scienter-based violations is broad and there is no legal requirement that the individual be an officer or director of a public company, or indeed a public company employee at all, for a bar to be appropriate. Rather, when considering whether to recommend seeking a bar, we generally think about whether the individual is likely to have an opportunity to become an officer or director of a public company in the future. We also think about a number of factors that courts have laid out, although as courts have made clear, those factors are “neither mandatory nor exclusive.”
My point here is this: if there is egregious conduct and a chance the person could have the opportunity to serve at the highest levels of a public company, we may well seek an officer and director bar to keep that person from being in a position to harm investors again.
Another related tool we have to help prevent future misconduct is the conduct based injunction, which enjoins a defendant from engaging in specific conduct in the future. Conduct based injunctions can apply to a wide variety of areas, including restrictions on stock trading and participating in securities offerings. In the case I mentioned a moment ago against the attorney who facilitated the unregistered sales of securities by fraudsters, the settlement included a five-year conduct based injunction that restricts his ability to prepare opinion letters. This sort of conduct-specific relief is key to preventing bad actors from repeating their misconduct.
Undertakings are also an important remedy aimed at future compliance with the securities laws. In certain cases, our settlements include undertakings that are tailored to address the underlying violations and affect future compliance, which can include limiting the activities, functions, or operations of a company. In addition, the Commission can require the settling party to hire an independent compliance consultant to review policies and procedures and to determine improvements that can prevent future misconduct. Where we see misconduct that has harmed investors, we will look hard at whether undertakings will be required to prevent that conduct – or similar conduct – from happening again.
You should expect to see us recommend aggressive use of these prophylactic tools to protect investors and the marketplace, and relatedly the public’s trust that all institutions and individuals are playing by the same rule set. And we’ll take a particularly hard look at whether we need to deploy these tools if the specific offender is a recidivist. When a firm repeatedly violates our laws or rules, they should expect that the remedial relief we seek will take that repeated misconduct into account.”