Sec back dating inquiry


23-Mar-2016 19:06

Whether executives will be criminally liable depends on whether they were consciously trying to cover up the practice of backdating. Like securities fraud, the criminal tax fraud statutes require an intent element.

Securities Fraud The primary source of criminal liability for backdating are the federal securities acts, which regulate the sale of securities by publicly traded companies.

Criminal charges for backdating could include alleged violations of Section 17(a), 15 U. C.77q, which prohibits fraudulent interstate transactions, and Section 10(b), 15 U. This means a company must properly disclose and account for any backdating practices in its financial statements. Furthermore, the failure to record an expense for discounted options granted to employees might result in understated financials, which could in turn make other financial reports inaccurate, particularly net revenues.

The basic violation under these statutes is the same: an intent to defraud another by means of an untrue statement of material fact or an omission of a material fact necessary in order to make a statement not misleading. Regardless of which acceptable GAAP approach a company used in valuing options,a statement in a company's financials stating that the strike price was equal to the fair market value ('FMV') on the grant date would be false or inaccurate if the company backdated options. Aside from interest and penalties that might accrue if a company amends its income tax returns, executives who implemented backdating practices may also be criminally liable for willfully failing to pay taxes, see , e.g., I. C.7202, or providing fraudulent and false statements in a tax return, see , e.g., I.

To qualify as an ISO, an option must have an 'option price [] not less than the fair market value of the stock at the time such option is granted.' I.

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Any person who willfully violates ' any provision' of the Securities Act or the Exchange Act and ' any rule or regulation thereunder' commits a criminal offense, and could be subject to substantial fines as well as imprisonment. Two of these new regulations may give rise to liability, but only for backdating that occurred after August 29, 2002, the effective date of the amendments. Section 302 requires the principal executive and financial officers of publicly-traded corporations to certify each annual or quarterly report filed with the SEC. The officers also certify that they are responsible for establishing and maintaining internal corporate controls to ensure the proper disclosure of all material information. In addition, regardless of the GAAP accounting method the company used, the company must have recorded some sort of compensation expense for the discounted options. Additional Liabilities Under Sarbanes-Oxley When Congress and the SEC approved the Sarbanes-Oxley Act to amend the Exchange Act, they created additional financial regulations for publicly-owned corporations. Section 403 significantly shortened the time companies are permitted to wait before disclosing transactions involving management or principal stockholders, including option grants. This shortened time frame essentially removes the significant benefits of backdating because the limited volatility most stocks experience over the course of two days narrows the potential discount margin between the market price on the grant date and the strike price. This certification represents that the officers reviewed the company's financial data, and that it presents the financial condition of the company in all material respects. Certain 'performance-based' compensation payments are not counted toward the cap, including stock options that are granted with an exercise price equal to or greater than the FMV of the companies' shares on the date of the grant. In addition, any inadequate internal controls that led to the inaccurate reporting would constitute a separate violation. Intent Requirement For Securities Fraud Under the securities acts, a defendant must act 'willfully' or 'willfully and knowingly.' See 15 U. This intent requirement is important in options backdating cases to determine whether executives may face criminal, rather than merely civil, penalties. If an executive who participated in backdating certified the company's financial reports, and those reports did not disclose and account for backdating, then he would be liable for making a fraudulent certification. Though federal courts have inconsistently construed these terms, Where the statute requires the person acted 'willfully and knowingly,' however, some courts require the government to show not only that the defendant knew that backdating was wrongful (willfully), but also that it was unlawful (knowingly). Internal Revenue Code Section 162(m) Section 162(m) caps the annual deduction for compensation paid to top executives at one million dollars.

R.240.10b-5, which prohibit the use of manipulative and deceptive devices in connection with the purchase or sale of securities. Internal Revenue Code Section 422 Section 422 permits public companies to grant employees 'incentive stock options' (ISOs), allowing them to purchase the company's stock at a discount rate and free from taxes, unless and until the employee later sells any purchased shares.



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