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Monday
Dec142015

Martin Kenney: Why is your snout squealing?

In a post for the FCPA Blog, Jordan Thomas said the annual report to Congress from the SEC whistleblower office showed that whistleblowing keeps growing, up 8 percent since last year and 30 percent in three years.

Last year there were nearly 4,000 tips, with 90 percent coming from within the United States. Ten percent came from 61 other countries, led by the UK (72), Canada (49), China (42), India (33), Australia (29), and Ireland (20).

What accounts for so many whistleblowers from outside the United States? In FY2015, the SEC paid $37 million in whistleblower awards. So the word is out.

Yet lawyers by nature are wary of others paying for information. The practice raises concerns that the information may be tarnished because of the financial incentive involved. As the Chinese might say, were these just rice-bowl whistleblowers? 

I have two retired UK fraud detectives within my firm’s investigations unit. Both have handled underworld informants, or "snouts." When considering the weight to be given to a snout, these detectives say it's crucial for police and prosecutors to know from the outset what's motivating them to talk. If the motive is financial reward, a red flag goes up for those overseeing the process.

Even with this red flag in mind, the SEC wants to encourage the flow of high-quality intelligence about wrongdoing. The SEC also knows that a whistleblower is probably committing career suicide, or at least insuring a hellish future at their current job.

So potential rewards have to be big enough to justify becoming a whistleblower. How is the SEC doing? Since its program started in August 2011, the SEC has paid more than $54 million to 22 whistleblowers. The biggest single award -- $30 million in 2014 -- went to an individual living outside the United States. No wonder overseas complaints now account for 10 percent of all SEC whistleblower tips.

Paying people to blow the whistle will always raise a red flag for the SEC about the quality of information flowing to it. Yet I find it encouraging that the process of whistleblowing is being professionalized, and is influencing companies to conduct their business with integrity.

There are lots of good reasons for a change in career path. Being an SEC snout because your current employer is breaking the law is one of them.

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Martin Kenney is Managing Partner of Martin Kenney & Co., Solicitors, a specialist investigative and asset recovery practice focused on multi-jurisdictional fraud cases www.martinkenney.com |@MKSolicitors.