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Thursday
Sep012016

SEC: 14,000 tips later, whistleblower award program has ‘transformed the agency’

After this week's $22 million award to a whistleblower, SEC leaders called the whistleblower program a game changer that has transformed the SEC's ability to protect investors.

More than $107 million has been awarded to 33 whistleblowers. The biggest award was more than $30 million in 2014. This week's $22 million award was the second biggest.

Whistleblower tips have helped the SEC bring successful enforcement actions "where more than $504 million was ordered in sanctions, including more than $346 million in disgorgement and interest for harmed investors," the agency said.

Andrew Ceresney, director of the SEC's enforcement division, said in a statement Tuesday: "The SEC whistleblower program has had a transformative impact on the agency, enabling us to bring high quality enforcement cases quicker using fewer resources."

The SEC reportedly paid its first FCPA-related whistleblower award in May. A BHP Billiton insider was awarded $3.75 million for information about FCPA offenses during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the reports said.

Congress directed the SEC to set up the whistleblower program as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act.

The SEC paid its first award in 2012, about a year after the program started.

The agency received about 4,000 tips last year and more than 14,000 since the program started. Tips have come from individuals in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and 95 foreign countries, the SEC said.

Whistleblowers can be eligible for an award when they voluntarily provide the SEC with "unique and useful information" that leads to a successful enforcement action with recoveries of more than $1 million. 

Awards can range from 10 percent to 30 percent of the money recovered.

The SEC also has brought one enforcement action under the anti-retaliation provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act and four actions against companies for including language in confidentiality and severance agreements that impeded whistleblowers from reporting to the SEC.

The SEC Whistleblower Office said this week it has returned over 13,000 phone calls from members of the public through the whistleblower hotline at (202) 551-4790. There's also an online tips portal here and details where tips can be mailed or faxed.

By law, the SEC protects the confidentiality of whistleblowers and doesn't disclose information that might reveal a whistleblower’s identity.

All payments come from an investor protection fund set up by Congress and financed through sanctions paid to the SEC by securities law violators. 

"No money has been taken or withheld from harmed investors to pay whistleblower awards," the SEC said.

“The SEC’s whistleblower program has proven to be a game changer for the agency in its short time of existence . . . ,” SEC chair Mary Jo White said Tuesday.

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Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He'll be the keynote speaker at the FCPA Blog NYC Conference 2016.