A whistleblower has been awarded $17 million by the US top regulator, the second largest award this year and the seventh-largest payout ever since the inception of the SEC’s whistleblower program in 2011.
The whistleblower alerted the US Securities and Exchange Commission about misconduct, then provided investigative leads and significant information that that resulted in an important enforcement action, according to the agency’s news release.
In explaining the reason for its award determination, Jane Norberg, Chief of the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower, noted that “Because of this whistleblower’s actions, harmed investors were able to recover millions of dollars in losses. This whistleblower stepped forward and helped the agency better protect Main Street investors.”
As long as a whistleblower’s internal disclosure prompted a company investigation, they can benefit from all the information discovered in that investigation. However, they should also report to the SEC within 120 days of the internal disclosure. Then the SEC uses the date of the internal report in determining whether the whistleblower provided original information.
The decision-making process, however, takes some time as the agency has sorted through a flood of requests for awards and tips on potential corporate wrongdoing.
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Committed to protecting the anonymity of informants, few details are available regarding the nature of the underlying facts or enforcement action or the identity of the whistleblower.
The SEC has now awarded approximately $448 million to 81 individuals since issuing its first award in 2012. Rewards are typically 10 to 30 percent of money paid by companies in cases where their information led to a successful enforcement action of $1 million or more.
The SEC’s biggest whistleblower award was $50 million, shared by two former Merrill Lynch employees in March 2018. A third former Merrill Lynch employee was awarded $33 million in the same case.
The recent rewards come as the regulator tries to recover from a dip in whistleblower performance throughout the previous year. In 2019, the number of whistleblower tips fielded to the country’s top markets regulator dropped for the first time since the program’s inception in 2011. The drop was partially attributed to SEC’s thinking about introducing caps on awards and giving the SEC staff more discretion to reduce certain payouts.
The SEC chief, however, took a step back following a backlash from the program advocates who claimed the changes would deter insiders from coming forward with tip-offs on fraud and other violations.