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Acting SEC chair signals support for penalties in foreign bribery cases

By Sarah N. Lynch

The top Republican at the Securities and Exchange Commission, known for his critical views on corporate penalties, expressed some support on Friday for imposing them in cases in which companies violate foreign bribery laws.

"I am generally comfortable with assessing civil monetary penalties in Foreign Corrupt Practices Act cases," Acting SEC Chairman Michael Piwowar said in remarks at the Practising Law Institute's "SEC Speaks" conference.

"According to academic literature, there is evidence that

when such violations are revealed to the market, the stock price does not always fall, and may even increase," he added.

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Piwowar's comments come at a time when many on Wall Street have been questioning whether the Justice Department and the SEC will ease enforcement of the FCPA.

Prior to being elected, President Donald Trump expressed concern about the FCPA, calling it a "horrible law" that should be changed.

In addition, Trump's pick to lead the SEC, attorney Jay Clayton, previously chaired a committee at the New York City Bar Association which drafted a paper that was somewhat critical of how the law was being enforced. Clayton is still awaiting U.S. Senate confirmation.

Piwowar's comments suggest there is likely to be some support among SEC commissioners to continue pursuing foreign bribery cases, given the impact FCPA disclosures have on share prices.

Piwowar is well known for being critical about how the SEC decides when to assess corporate penalties generally, amid concerns that sizeable fines against public companies may in some cases unduly punish ordinary shareholders who are already victims of the alleged wrongdoing.

He previously voted against imposing penalties against JPMorgan Chase & Co over its "London Whale" trades.

The SEC did not win authority from Congress to seek penalties until 1990, and even then, the agency was slow to embrace the practice until after the major accounting scandals at companies like Enron and Worldcom.

But in 2006, then-SEC Chair Chris Cox shifted gears amid concerns from some SEC officials about corporate penalties and issued guidance that spells out factors the commission should consider when determining whether to levy them.

Piwowar said on Friday he closely follows those guidelines.

"It is entirely appropriate to discipline and

punish corporate malefactors who violate our laws," he said.

But the SEC must "remember the innocent investors" who are also victims, he added.

 
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