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03-Apr-2016 00:34

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. 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.

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New research (July 2006) by Eric Lie and Randall Heron found that 29.2% of companies issuing options to executives and/or directors between 19 have grant date patterns that suggest backdating or other manipulative practices (such as "spring-loading," the announcement of a grant before good news is released), and 23% of options issued to executives appear to have been backdated or spring-loaded.Martha Boersch , a Partner in Jones Day's San Francisco office, is a trial lawyer who practices corporate criminal defense and complex civil litigation. 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. Rene Beltranena Bea is a trial Associate in Jones Day's New York office. 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. To avoid criminal liability, the company must have disclosed the fact that it was backdating and explained particularly how the option strike prices had been determined. Previously, companies were allowed to wait until the end of their fiscal year before reporting these transactions. Now option grants must be reported to the SEC within two business days of the grant date.

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Failure to do so may render financial statements 'false or misleading with respect tomaterial fact,' and create potential criminal liability under the securities acts. Filing an inaccurate report with the SEC might subject the company and its executives to a multitude of securities fraud violations for disclosures that are 'false or misleading with respect tomaterial fact.' Criminal liability for securities fraud will depend squarely on the disclosure and accounting made in a defendant's financial reports. Because backdated options have an exercise price lower than FMV as of the grant date, they are not excepted and must be included when calculating whether an executive's compensation has exceeded the cap. The pattern was somewhat more common in technology companies, smaller companies, companies granting options to more executives and directors, and companies with higher stock price volatility.