The US Securities and Exchange Commission agreed to pay $1.6 million to an anonymous whistleblower who provided high-quality information that helped the agency in stopping illegal practices at an unidentified company.
The US top regulator didn’t name the company involved or the people getting the awards, citing federal law that protects confidentiality.
The agency explains that the tipster was eligible for the bounty after he alerted SEC staff to securities law violations and provided original information that served as a base for SEC’s action against the illegal activity. In addition to the tip, the whistleblower’s information and assistance helped the regulator devise an investigative plan in early stages, preserving the watchdog time and resources, it said.
“The violations would have been difficult to detect without the whistleblower’s information and assistance,” said Jane Norberg, chief of the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower.
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.
Whistleblowers receive between up to 30% of penalties
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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Today’s announcement brings the whistleblower program’s total endowment to over $395 million since issuing its first award in 2012. This whistleblower is the 74th individual to receive an award through the program.
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.
Whistleblowers are entitled under law to between 10% and 30% of the monetary penalties paid by companies in cases where their information led to a successful enforcement action of $1 million or more.
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.