This Week In Securities Litigation (Week of March 14, 2022)
Five Chinese issuers were ordered to comply with SOX audit/inspection obligations by the Commission on March 11, 2022. The group includes BeiGene, Zai Lab, Hutchmed, ACM Research and YumChina. This may be the beginning of the end for a long running battle.
The Commission has scheduled a vote for later this month on the adoption rules regarding an ESG framework. While foreign regulators have previously acted on this issue, it is a first for the agency.
Whistleblowers: The commission awarded about $14 million to a whistleblower in connection with one action and over $3.5 million in another this past week.
Cybersecurity: The agency proposed rules regarding the management, governance and incident disclosure by public companies regarding cybersecurity. Specifically, the proposals would require firms to provide current reporting about material incidents and periodic updates concerning prior incidents. They would also mandate periodic reporting by issuers regarding their policies and procedures to identify and manage cybersecurity risks, board oversight of those risks and the implementation of cybersecurity policies and procedures. Periodic disclosures would also be required about the expertise of the board in the area, according to the March 9, 2022, release (here).
SEC Enforcement – Filed and Settled Actions
Last week the Commission filed 2 civil injunctive actions and 1 administrative proceedings, exclusive of Section 12(j), tag-along and other similar proceedings.
Fraudulent digital assets: SEC v. Qin, Civil Action No. 1:20-cv-10849 (S.D.N.Y.) is a previously filed action which named as defendant Stefan Qin. The complaint alleged that Defendant was the founder and operator of Virgil Sigma Fund LP, a fraudulent investment fund that supposedly engaged in digital asset arbitrage trading. Mr. Qin repeatedly made false statements to investor to induce them to put their money into the fund. Much of the investor money was misappropriated. After entering a preliminary injunction and appointing a receiver the Court entered a final judgment by consent imposing an injunction based on Securities Act Section 17(a) and Exchange Act Section 10(b). The judgment also requires Defendant to pay disgorgement of $36,352,028 and prejudgment interest of $13,494,793. Those amounts are deemed satisfied by the order of forfeiture entered in the parallel criminal case. In the parallel criminal action brought by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office Mr. Qin pleaded guilty to one count of criminal securities fraud and was sentenced to serve 7.5 years in prison and directed to pay criminal forfeiture in the amount of $54,793,532. See Lit. Rel. No. 25342 (March 9, 2022).
SEC v. Barksdale, Civil Action No. 1:22-cv-1933 (S.D.N.Y. Filed March 8, 2022). Named as defendants in the action are John Barksdale and his sister, Jonatina Barksdale. John, a U.S. citizen living in Thailand, is the founder and primary entrepreneur behind a firm called Ormeus Global S.A. and its digital tokens, Ormeus Coin or ORME. Sister JonAtina, or Tina, is a U.S. citizen living in Hong Kong. She controls the company along with her brother. In just a few months, beginning in June 2017, Brother and Sister raised millions of dollars from thousands of investors by offering and selling unregistered securities in the form of subscription packages in Ormeus Global, S.A., a multi-level marketing business. Also sold were unregistered securities in the form of the digital asset Ormeus Coin. The subscription packages included access to a learning portal about digital assets, funds pooled and invested into a digital asset trading system and the tokens of Ormeus Coin. Through the firm Defendants marketed a trading system as a proven program. Returns to investors were supposedly as high as 160% of the initial investment. Through Ormeus Global, a company organized in Panama on September 4, 2017 and based in Hong Kong, Defendants marketed the Ormeus Coin to investors. Part of the sale pitch claimed the Ormeus Coin would permanently place 40% of the profits from the digital assets mining business tied to the coin into digital asset wallets called Ormeus Reserve Vault. This would support the Ormeus Coin investors were told. They were also informed that the wallet would be displayed on a firm website. In fact, the wallet displayed belonged to a third party. Defendants’ marketing pitch contained other false claims. To portray the firm as successful, for example, the digital assets were displayed on the website and were represented to be worth over $190 million in November 2021. In fact, the actual digital wallets were worth less than $500,000 as of that date. The website also displays a letter which claimed that the digital mining operations of Ormeus Coin were among the largest in the world and included facilities in North America. During the period surrounding the road show Defendants engaged in manipulative trading of Ormeus Coin to boost the price. Coordinated trading was used to inflate the price of the coin. Overall Defendants raised at least $124 million from over 20,000 investors in the United States and various countries around the world. Defendants have used millions of dollars of investor cash for their personal benefit. The complaint alleges violations of Securities Act Sections 5(a), 5(c) and 17(a) and Exchange Act Section 10(b). The case is pending. See Lit. Rel. No. 25341 (March 8, 2022).
Misappropriation: SEC v. Schamens, Civil Action No. 2:22-cv-01219 (D.N.J. Filed March 7, 2022) is an action which names as defendant David W. Schamens who has been associated with a number of investment advisers. In 1992 Mr. Schamens resolved Commission charges that he misappropriated client finds. In connection with the resolution of that action he was barred from the securities business. In this action since February 2019 Defendant has solicited investors to acquire interests in investment fund TradeStream Algo Fund, LP. The fund supposedly used an algorithm-driven stock trading approach that had the potential for large profits. In fact investor funds were misappropriated by Defendant who tried to conceal his misconduct by furnishing investors with fake documents. The complaint alleges violations of Securities Act Section 17(a), Exchange Act Section 10(b) and Advisers Act Sections 206(1), 206(2) and 206(4). The case is pending. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Jersey filed parallel criminal charges.
Fees – conflicts: In the Matter of Alumni Ventures Group, LLC, Adm. Proc. File No. 3-20791 (March 4, 2022). Alumni Ventures Group has been an exempt reporting adviser since December 18, 2017. The firm relies on an exemption from registration for venture capital fund advisers in Section 203(f) of the Advisers Act. It has about $425 million under management. Respondent Michael Collins is its founder. The Order Instituting Proceedings is based on two claims. The first centers on the fees charged clients. Over a four-year period, beginning in June 2016, the adviser told clients and others that its management fee for the venture capital funds it managed was the “industry standard ‘2 and 20.’” In fact, it was not. The industry standard is 2% each year and carried interest of up to 20%. In contrast, the firm charged 2% each year plus the full 20% – not the industry standard. Second, the firm made inter-fund loans and cash transfers between funds as well as loans to certain funds. Those transactions violated the funds’ operating agreements prohibiting commingling and its fiduciary duties to the funds. The inter-fund transfers were also a conflict of interest between the funds that was not disclosed. The Order alleges violations of Section 206(2) and 206(4) of the Advisers Act. The firm undertook certain remedial acts and agreed to implement certain undertakings. To resolve the proceedings Respondents consented to the entry of cease-and-desist orders based on the Sections cited in the Order and to a censure. Respondents will each pay a penalty of $700,000 and, in addition, Mr. Collins will pay an additional penalty of $100,000.
Remarks: Director of COVID -19 Fraud Enforcement Kevin Chambers delivered remarks on March 10, 2022 at the Enforcement Task Force Roundtable (here) regarding the work of the group.
Release: The agency published a release which identifies jurisdictions that have anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorist deficiencies on March 10, 2022 (here). The release identifies jurisdictions removed from the list as well as those that that are considered high risk.
Release: The FCA cautioned firms divesting Russian assets to ensure that the transactions comply with the guidance issued by the regulator previously, according to a March 13, 2022 release (here).