Over the past week, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has issued total rewards of over $20 million to three SEC whistleblowers. As a result, SEC enforcement actions involving whistleblowers have now recovered more than $1 billion in financial remedies against whistleblowers.
The annual SEC whistleblower report to Congress for Fiscal Year 2017 has been released. It provides information and data about the activities of the SEC Whistleblower Office (referred to in the report as OWB) from October 1, 2016 to September 30, 2017. Over the year period, the SEC received over 4,400 whistleblower tips during Fiscal Year 2017 and paid out awards totaling nearly $50 million. The SEC also brought a number of enforcement actions to address companies that unlawful retaliated against or impeded whistleblowers.
Australia appears to have moved one step closer to adopting whistleblower rewards and additional retaliation protections with a report last month by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services. The report’s main recommendation is for Australia to establish a Whistleblower Protection Authority to support whistleblowers, prioritize the handling of whistleblower tips and investigate instances of retaliation.
Since the Ontario Securities Commission opened its whistleblower program to tips, at least four individuals have filed complaints against one of Canada’s largest private equity firms according to the Wall Street Journal. Officials at the Ontario Securities Commission and a unit of the Toronto Police Service have inquired about the matter with the multi-billion dollar investment firm at issue.
A report earlier this month by the Financial Conduct Authority detailed the declining number of whistleblower tips reported to the British authorities. From 2014-15 to 2016-17, the number of reports has declined each year, resulting in just 900 cases in the last year. In 2014-15, the FCA had 1,340 whistleblower reports.
We are seeing more movement on the payment of whistleblower rewards internationally. Nigeria and Korea have been paying rewards recently and Australia continues to consider stronger retaliation protections and monetary incentives. This is in addition to the Ontario Securities Commission’s implementation of a program to reward tips about securities fraud last year.
The end of the Obama Administration was one of the busiest in the resolution of government investigations ever. The SEC and DOJ wrapped up nine Foreign Corrupt Practice Act investigations in the course of two months.
Summer may be a slow time on the stock market but we’re getting a steady stream of bribery news with just two months left in the government’s fiscal year. On the FCPA front: Embraer announced that it has reserved $200 million for a settlement under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Internationally: Germany and the U.K. have expanded their investigations into bribery allegations involving Rolls Royce.
Governments across the world continue to recognize the importance of whistleblowers with agencies in Germany and Canada opening up whistleblower programs to collect information about violations of their laws. Australia has extended its consideration of whistleblower rewards to include international tax avoidance, which it is studying. And Ontario Canada’s program to reward whistleblowers for information concerning securities violations will soon launch.
Whistleblower protection is gaining traction in many nations but “much remains to be done” according to an OECD report published last month titled “Committing to Effective Whistleblower Protection”. For individuals reporting corporate misconduct such as bribery, this is especially true as whistleblower protection in the private sector is still “almost a legal vacuum”.