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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations


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  • Digital asset company to pay $6.5 million to settle CFTC allegations


    On March 19, the CFTC announced a $6.5 million settlement with a California-based digital asset company to resolve allegations of false, misleading, or inaccurate reporting concerning its digital asset transactions that violated the Commodity Exchange Act or CFTC regulations. According to the CFTC, from January 2015 to September 2018, the company allegedly operated at least two trading programs that generated orders that, at times, matched each other. The CFTC claimed, among other things, that the transactional information provided on the company’s website and given to reporting services resulted “in a perceived volume and level of liquidity of digital assets. . .that was false, misleading or inaccurate.” Additionally, the CFTC alleged that the company was vicariously liable for a former employee’s use of “a manipulative or deceptive device” to intentionally place buy and sell orders that matched each other, creating a misleading appearance of interest in certain cryptocurrencies. The company did not admit or deny the CFTC’s findings and agreed to pay a $6.5 million civil penalty.

    Securities CFTC Enforcement Virtual Currency Commodity Exchange Act Cryptocurrency Digital Assets

  • Multi-national bank settles FCPA and commodities fraud charges for $130 million

    Financial Crimes

    On January 8, the DOJ announced it had entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with a German-based multi-national financial services company (company), in which the company agreed to pay more than $130 million to resolve an investigation into violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and a separate investigation into a commodities fraud scheme.

    According to the DOJ, between 2009 and 2016, the company admitted to knowingly and willfully conspiring to conceal payments to business development consultants (BDC) which were actually bribes to foreign officials in order to obtain business. The company admitted that employees agreed to “misrepresent the purpose of payments to BDCs and falsely characterize[d] payments to others as payments to BDCs” in violation of the FCPA’s books, records, and accounts provisions. Additionally, company employees failed to implement adequate internal accounting controls in violation of the FCPA by, among other things, (i) failing to conduct meaningful due diligence regarding the BDCs; (ii) paying BDCs who were not under contract with the company at the time; and (iii) paying BDCs without adequate documentation of the services purportedly performed.

    Additionally, the DOJ stated that between 2008 and 2013, the company’s precious metal traders engaged in a scheme to defraud other traders on the New York Mercantile Exchange Inc. and Commodity Exchange Inc. by placing orders to buy and sell precious metals futures contracts with the intent to cancel those orders before execution. The company previously settled with the CFTC in January 2018 for substantially the same conduct (covered by InfoBytes here).

    Of the total $130 million penalty, the company will pay a criminal penalty of nearly $80 million to the DOJ in relation to the FCPA violations, and will pay $43 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest to the SEC to settle allegations that the company violated the FCPA’s books and records and internal accounting controls provisions. The company will pay over $7.5 million in relation to the commodities scheme, for criminal disgorgement, victim compensation, and a criminal penalty. The DOJ noted that the company received full credit for cooperation with the investigations and for significant remediation.

    Financial Crimes FCPA DOJ CFTC SEC Enforcement Bribery

  • Federal and state authorities target income scams

    Federal Issues

    On December 14, the FTC, along with 19 federal, state, and local law enforcement partners, announced “Operation Income Illusion,” which encompasses more than 50 enforcement actions against scams targeting consumers with false promises of income and financial independence. According to an analysis of complaint data by the FTC, consumers have reported that they lost more than $610 million to income scams since 2016—with more than $150 million of losses reported in the first nine months of 2020—which the FTC attributes to the increase in scams related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

    The announcement also includes four new enforcement actions and one settlement that are part of Operation Income Illusion, (i) an action and temporary restraining order against a Florida-based operation, which sold expensive memberships to programs by promoting earnings between $500 and $12,500 per sale; (ii) an action against a company with Spanish-language ads targeting Latina consumers with false promises of large profits reselling luxury products; (iii) an action and temporary restraining order against a company marketing investment-related services claiming they would enable consumers to make consistent profits off the market; (iv) an action and temporary restraining order against companies perpetuating a telemarketing scheme claiming false affiliation with to get consumers to purchase business opportunity programs; and (v) settlements (available here and here) with ten defendants involved in a scam targeting older adults while selling various money-making opportunities.

    The other agencies reporting actions as part of the sweep include: the SEC, CFTC, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas; and state and county agencies in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Pennsylvania.

    Federal Issues FTC Enforcement State Issues CFTC SEC Fraud

  • Energy firm's U.S. affiliate agrees to pay $135 million to settle FCPA violations with CFTC and DOJ

    Financial Crimes

    On December 3, the DOJ announced it had entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. affiliate of one of the largest energy trading firms in the world, in which the company agreed to pay a combined $135 million in criminal penalties related to two counts of conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA. The agreement also resolves a parallel investigation in Brazil. According to the DOJ, between 2005 and 2014, the company paid millions of dollars in bribes to public officials in Brazil, Ecuador, and Mexico “‘to obtain improper competitive advantages that resulted in significant illicit profits for the company.’” Specifically, the company and its co-conspirators paid more than $8 million in bribes to at least four officials at Brazil’s state-owned and controlled oil company, Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. – Petrobras (Petrobras), “in exchange for receiving confidential Petrobras pricing and competitor information.” The company concealed the bribery scheme “through the use of intermediaries and a fictitious company that facilitated the payments to offshore accounts and, ultimately, to the Petrobras officials.” In another instance, the company bribed at least five additional Petrobras officials in order to receive confidential pricing information used to win fuel oil contracts, whereby “a consultant acting on behalf of [the company] engaged in back-channel negotiations with a Houston-based Petrobras official,” and “ultimately settl[ed] on the pre-arranged price that allowed for bribes to be paid from [the company] to the Petrobras officials.”

    Between 2015 and July 2020, the company also engaged in a second bribery conspiracy by offering and paying government officials in Ecuador and Mexico more than $2 million in exchange for business opportunities connected to the purchase and sale of oil products. The company and its co-conspirators—who knew the funds, at least in part, were going towards the bribes—“entered into sham consulting agreements, set up shell companies, created fake invoices for purported consulting services and used alias email accounts to transfer funds to offshore companies involved in the conspiracy.”

    DOJ is crediting $45 million of the total criminal penalty against the amount the company will pay to resolve the Brazilian Ministério Público Federal’s investigation into conduct related to the company’s bribery scheme in Brazil. The company and another entity within its group of energy trading firms have also agreed to continue to cooperate with the DOJ in ongoing criminal investigations and prosecutions, and will make enhancements to their compliance programs and report on their implementation for a three-year period.

    In a related matter, the company also agreed to disgorge more than $12.7 million and pay an $83 million civil money penalty related to manipulative and deceptive trading activity not covered by the DOJ’s deferred prosecution agreement. Under the order, the civil money penalty will be recognized and offset up to $67 million by the amount paid to the DOJ as part of the deferred prosecution agreement. The CFTC noted that the company’s “fraudulent and manipulative conduct—including conduct relating to foreign corruption—defrauded its counterparties, harmed other market participants, and undermined the integrity of the U.S. and global physical and derivatives oil markets.” This case is the first foreign corruption action brought by the CFTC.

    Financial Crimes FCPA DOJ CFTC Bribery Of Interest to Non-US Persons

  • Federal agencies will not recommend specific LIBOR replacement rate

    Federal Issues

    On October 21, a group of U.S. financial agencies wrote to the executives of financial institutions that participated in the Credit Sensitivity Group workshops, stating that the agencies do not intend to recommend a specific credit-sensitive rate for use in commercial lending products in place of LIBOR. The letter states that “[t]he transition away from LIBOR is a significant and complex undertaking,” and there are multiple suitable alternative reference rates to replace LIBOR. The letter acknowledges that the use of the Secured Overnight Financial Rate (SOFR), which is recommended by the Alternative Reference Rates Committee is “voluntary.” After participating in the workshops, the agencies concluded that they are “not well positioned to adjudicate the selection of a reference rate between banks and their commercial customers” due to various business needs and terms of commercial loans that are based on the negotiation of banks and borrowing parties. Thus, the letter states, the agencies will continue to convene additional working sessions to highlight innovation in the credit-sensitive rates and explore implementing solutions for commercial loans transitioning away from LIBOR.

    For continuing InfoBytes covering on the LIBOR transition see here.

    Federal Issues LIBOR SOFR ARRC Federal Reserve CFTC OCC FDIC

  • CFTC charges cryptocurrency derivatives platform and owners with AML violations


    On October 1, the CFTC filed charges against five entities and three individuals for allegedly owning and operating an unregistered cryptocurrency derivatives platform and failing to implement required anti-money laundering procedures. The complaint alleges that the platform “illegally offer[ed] leveraged retail commodity transactions, futures, options, and swaps” on cryptocurrencies without implementing key safeguards required by the Commodity Exchange Act and several CFTC regulations compliance measures, such as know-your-customer procedures or actions designed to detect and prevent illicit activities. The CFTC also claims that the exchange operated as an unregistered futures commission merchant and did not have CFTC approval to operate as a designated contract market or swap execution facility. The complaint requests civil monetary penalties and remedial ancillary relief in the form of (i) permanent trading and registration bans; (ii) disgorgement; (iii) restitution; (iv); pre- and post-judgment interest; and (v) a permanent injunction from future violations.

    In a parallel action, the U.S. Attorney for the District of New York indicted the three individuals along with a fourth individual on federal charges of violating, and conspiring to violate, the Bank Secrecy Act “by willfully failing to establish, implement, and maintain an adequate anti-money laundering [] program” at the exchange.

    Securities Digital Assets CFTC DOJ Enforcement Cryptocurrency Anti-Money Laundering Bank Secrecy Act

  • Bank settles spoofing charges with CFTC, SEC, and DOJ for nearly $1 billion

    Federal Issues

    On September 29, a global bank and several of its subsidiaries agreed to resolve investigations into allegations that their traders engaged in manipulative trading of metals futures and U.S. Treasury securities using a practice known as spoofing. The CFTC’s order settled charges that numerous bank traders violated federal commodities laws over a period of at least eight years by allegedly placing hundreds of thousands of spoof orders in precious metals and Treasury futures contracts. According to the CFTC announcement, a broker-dealer subsidiary of the bank—a registered futures commission merchant—also allegedly failed to identify, investigate, and stop the misconduct, despite numerous red flags. While neither admitting nor denying any wrongdoing in connection with the CFTC’s allegations, “except to the extent that Respondents admit those findings in any related action against Respondents by, or any agreement with, the [DOJ] or any other governmental agency or office,” the bank and its subsidiaries have agreed to pay a $920 million penalty.

    In a parallel matter, the SEC announced the same day that it had reached a settlement with the broker-dealer subsidiary for fraudulently engaging in manipulative trading of Treasury securities. The SEC alleged that the subsidiary traders place non-bona fide orders to buy or sell a particular Treasury security in order “to create a false appearance of buy or sell interest” to “induce other market participants to trade against the bona fide orders at prices that were more favorable to [the broker-dealer subsidiary] than [the broker-dealer subsidiary] otherwise would have been able to obtain.” The broker-dealer subsidiary agreed to the entry of the SEC’s cease-and-desist order, in which it admitted to the SEC’s factual findings and agreed to pay disgorgement of $10 million and a civil penalty of $25 million, which will be offset by amounts paid by the bank and its subsidiaries in parallel DOJ and CFTC actions.

    Additionally, the DOJ announced it had entered into a three-year deferred prosecution agreement with the bank to resolve criminal charges of two counts of wire fraud related to the aforementioned allegations. The agreement imposes a payment of more than $920 million, which consists of a criminal monetary penalty, criminal disgorgement, and victim compensation, with the criminal penalty credited towards the equal amount in penalties imposed by the CFTC. The bank and its subsidiaries must also continue to cooperate with any ongoing or future investigations and prosecutions, and it must report evidence or allegations of misconduct that could further violate federal anti-fraud, securities, or commodities statutes. Furthermore, the bank and its subsidiaries are required to enhance internal compliance programs as appropriate.

    Federal Issues DOJ SEC CFTC Spoofing Enforcement

  • CFTC reaches $4.5 million settlement with bank over lost audio files


    On September 28, the CFTC announced a $4.5 million settlement with a national bank and two affiliated entities to resolve allegations that they failed to preserve audio files, including trader recordings that were subpoenaed in 2017. According to the CFTC, in early 2018 the bank stated that it had directed staff to preserve the recordings and asked for an extension to turn over the requested audio files. The Commission granted the request. In late 2018, the bank, however, said the audio files had been deleted due to a design flaw in its audio preservation system. The CFTC claimed that the bank was aware of the audio-preservation issue as early as 2014. As such, according to the CFTC, the bank “did not maintain adequate internal controls with respect to its preservation of audio and thus failed to diligently supervise matters related to its business as a CFTC registrant.” The entities did not admit or deny the CFTC’s findings, but have agreed to pay the $4.5 million civil penalty plus post-judgment interest.

    Securities CFTC Enforcement

  • CFTC charges multi-level cryptocurrency marketing scheme


    On September 11, the CFTC filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas against four individuals accused of operating a purported multi-level marketing scheme involving the solicitation of nearly $100,000 in customer funds that were to be used to speculate in cryptocurrency. The CFTC alleged that the defendants violated the Commodity Exchange Act by, among other things, creating the false illusion that their business employed “master traders” with years of cryptocurrency trading experience, that customers’ earnings would increase based on the amount of their deposits, and that customers who made referrals would receive bonuses. Additionally, the defendants posted misleading trade statements online that failed to “accurately reflect the Bitcoin trading purportedly undertaken by [the d]efendants and led certain customers to believe they were earning significant amounts of money from [the d]efendants’ trading of Bitcoin on their behalf.” The CFTC further claimed that when customers tried to unsuccessfully withdraw their funds, the defendants would first claim their website or smartphone app were experiencing technical problems, but then eventually stopped responding to the customer requests. The CFTC seeks to enjoin the defendants’ allegedly unlawful acts and practices, to compel compliance with the Commodity Exchange Act and CFTC regulations, and to further enjoin the defendants from engaging in any commodity interest-related activity. In addition, the CFTC seeks civil monetary penalties, restitution, trading and registration bans, and other statutory, injunctive, or equitable relief as the court may deem necessary and appropriate.

    Securities Digital Assets CFTC Enforcement Cryptocurrency Commodity Exchange Act

  • Broker dealer assessed $38 million in penalties for AML violations


    On August 10, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), SEC, and the CFTC announced separate settlements with a broker-dealer following investigations into its anti-money laundering (AML) programs. The broker-dealer did not admit or deny any of the charges, and the agencies all considered remedial actions undertaken by the broker-dealer. FINRA fined the broker-dealer $15 million for allegedly failing to establish and implement AML processes reasonably designed to detect and report suspicious transactions as required by the Bank Secrecy Act, including foreign currency wire transfers to and from countries known to be at high risk for money laundering. Additionally, the broker-dealer “lacked sufficient personnel and a reasonably designed case management system.” The broker-dealer consented to the terms of the Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent and agreed to retain a third-party consultant to take steps to remediate its AML program.

    In a separate investigation conducted by the SEC, the broker-dealer reached a settlement to resolve allegations that it repeatedly failed to file suspicious activity reports (SARs) as required by the Exchange Act for U.S. microcap securities trades executed on behalf of its customers. According to the SEC, because the broker-dealer’s “AML policies and procedures were not reasonably tailored to the risks of [its] U.S. microcap securities business,” over a one-year period, it failed to (i) recognize red flags; (ii) properly investigate suspicious activity; and (iii) file more than 150 SARs in a timely fashion even after compliance personnel flagged the suspicious transactions. Under the terms of the order, the broker-dealer has agreed to be censured, will cease and desist from committing future violations, and will pay an $11.5 million civil penalty.

    The CFTC also announced a settlement to resolve allegations that the broker-dealer failed to (i) diligently supervise the handling of several commodity trading accounts; (ii) sufficiently oversee its employees’ handling of these accounts, leading to its “failure to maintain an adequate [AML] program and to conduct appropriate customer monitoring”; and (iii) identify or conduct adequate investigations necessary to detect and report suspicious transactions. Under the order, the broker-dealer is required to pay an $11.5 million civil penalty and disgorge $706,214 it earned as the futures commission merchant for certain accounts that were the subject of a 2018 CFTC enforcement action.

    Securities FINRA SEC CFTC SARs Financial Crimes Bank Secrecy Act Anti-Money Laundering Enforcement