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The Wall Street Journal: Law Blog: Are Lower SEC Penalites On the Way?

Posted by Ashby Jones

Here in Gotham, the news today is Imus, Imus, and more Imus. Good stuff, but at the Law Blog, news of a shift in procedure at the SEC does just as much to make our hearts beat faster.

According to a WaPo story today, the commission is changing how it negotiates settlements with companies. The shift could reportedly reduce the number and size of financial penalties that businesses pay.

Under the change, which has not been made public, SEC enforcement lawyers will have to seek approval from all five commissioners before they begin settlement talks that involve fining corporations. Currently, staff members have the authority to negotiate with businesses before they take the deals to the agency leaders for final approval.

The shift marks the latest development in a heated debate over whether companies or individual wrongdoers should bear the brunt of blame for legal violations. Republican Commissioner Paul Atkins has argued that imposing fines against businesses in many circumstances unduly penalizes their stockholders. Rather, he and allies say, corporate executives who broke the law should pay the price.

The pilot program, launched under the direction of chairman Christopher Cox, will reportedly affect a relatively small percentage of cases, but will result in more productive and fast-tracked negotiations between business and enforcers, according to spokesman John Nester. The plan, Nester said, “will increase investor protection because it will give our enforcement division a stronger hand in settlement negotiations.”

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Comments (Only one posted relating to Shell).

On April 11, 2007, the WSJ published an Energy Blog article under the headline “Shell Settles Investor Lawsuit”:

The article announced news of Shell’s settlement of a major securities fraud class action. Details followed the following day in a WSJ article entitled “Royal Shell Settles European Case — U.S. Style”. Neither article mentioned that Shell is promising, as part of a $450 million dollar settlement of qualified non U.S. purchasers of Shell stock, that it will ask the SEC to use an SEC fine of $120 imposed in relation to the fraud, to part fund the settlement.

I fail to see any merit to the time and money invested in a long investigation by the SEC prior to imposing the $120 million sanction, if the fine is now allowed to be used to benefit Shell. The main Shell executive culprits were forced to resign with huge payoffs to secure their co-operation – a $20 million dollar severance/pension pot deal in the case of Sir Philip Watts.

However, other Shell directors who signed Form 20F returns filed with the SEC, which contained materially false information designed to fool the market, remain at the helm of Shell. This includes Royal Dutch Shell Plc Chief Executive, Jeroen van der Veer and the Executive Director of Shell Exploration and Production, Malcolm Brinded. Both are indelibly tainted by the securities fraud.

Posted by John Donovan, co-owner of the website

Comment by John Donovan – April 16, 2007 at 9:16 am and its sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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