SEC’s New Enforcement Cooperation Initiative

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced a new initiative encouraging cooperation. They put on a big media blitz. Big enough that they even allowed me to ask a question of SEC Enforcement Director Robert Khuzami.

For the first time, the SEC set out how it will evaluate whether, how much, and in what manner to credit cooperation, to serve as an incentive to report violations and cooperate fully and promptly in enforcement cases.

The SEC will have some new cooperation tools at its disposal:

  • Cooperation Agreements — Formal written agreements in which the Enforcement Division agrees to recommend to the Commission that a cooperator receive credit for cooperating in investigations or related enforcement actions if the cooperator provides substantial assistance such as full and truthful information and testimony.
  • Deferred Prosecution Agreements — Formal written agreements in which the Commission agrees to forego an enforcement action against a cooperator if the individual or company agrees, among other things, to cooperate fully and truthfully and to comply with express prohibitions and undertakings during a period of deferred prosecution.
  • Non-prosecution Agreements — Formal written agreements, entered into under limited and appropriate circumstances, in which the Commission agrees not to pursue an enforcement action against a cooperator if the individual or company agrees, among other things, to cooperate fully and truthfully and comply with express undertakings.

One thing that came out of my discussion with Khuzami (I’m not sure I should call him Rob.) is that the SEC is looking towards the Department of Justice and criminal prosecutions on how to use these tools. But the SEC, as a civil enforcement agency, is not used to having the benefit of these tools.

Plus, the enforcement division can only make a recommendation to the Commission with a cooperation agreement. The Commission can ignore the cooperation and still bring down its full hammer on a someone even if they are a whistle blower and cooperating with the enforcement division. The cooperation message I was hearing from the SEC did not give me the warm fuzzies.

Nonetheless, the new tools should encourage cooperation and be beneficial to SEC Enforcement. For individuals, they have the prospect that they may not be prosecuted. Companies may also induced by being able to avoid the filing of the typical SEC complaint, with pages and pages of misconduct.

To publicize the new cooperation initiative, the SEC even assembled a new Enforcement Cooperation Initiative website. The best publicity will be an individual or company benefiting from cooperation.

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