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  • Several companies report developments in FCPA investigations

    Financial Crimes

    In the second half of February, at least three unrelated companies have publicly disclosed the existence and/or status of various FCPA investigations in forms filed with the SEC:

    • Data analytics company: On February 23, a data analytics company disclosed that the DOJ and SEC have both declined to pursue FCPA enforcement actions in connection with a subsidiary’s “questionable expenditures for travel, gifts and other expenses” in Turkey. As the Dayton, Ohio-based company previously disclosed on August 4, 2017, the company initiated an internal investigation after discovering the questionable expenditures, self-reported the issues to the DOJ and SEC, cooperated with the agencies, and undertook certain remedial actions.
    • Dialysis provider​: On February 27, a dialysis provider disclosed that the DOJ and SEC are investigating potential FCPA violations related to “certain conduct in the company’s products business in a number of countries,” and that it has reserved €200 million for a potential settlement with the agencies. After receiving “certain communications alleging conduct in countries outside the U.S. that might violate the FCPA or other anti-bribery laws” in 2012, the Bad Homburg, Germany-based company conducted an internal investigation, self-reported the issues to the DOJ and SEC, cooperated with the agencies, and undertook certain remedial actions.
    • Energy company​: On February 28, an energy company disclosed that the DOJ and SEC have both declined to pursue FCPA enforcement actions in connection with “self-reported [accounting] errors and possible irregularities” at an Italian subsidiary conducting business in the Middle East. In April 2016, the Houston-based company previously disclosed that it was restating its 2015 financial statements and conducting an internal investigation related to the accounting issues. Although “the SEC’s investigation related to the circumstances giving rise to the restatement is continuing,” the FCPA piece of the investigation has concluded.

    Financial Crimes SEC DOJ FCPA

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  • French pharmaceutical company announces DOJ declination in FCPA investigation

    Financial Crimes

    As previously covered, a French pharmaceutical company announced in October 2014 that it was investigating whether certain payments made by company employees to healthcare professionals in the Middle East and Africa violated the FCPA. The company launched an investigation to review payments made from 2007 to 2012 as a result of anonymous whistleblower allegations, and self-reported the allegations to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). On March 7, 2018, the company announced in its Form 20-F SEC filing that the DOJ notified the company in February 2018 that it was closing the inquiry into the self-reported whistleblower allegations. The company is continuing to cooperate with the SEC’s review of the allegations.

    Financial Crimes DOJ SEC FCPA Whistleblower

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  • District Court recognizes CFTC authority to regulate virtual currency as commodities


    On March 6, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York granted the CFTC’s request for preliminary injunction against defendants alleged to have misappropriated investor money through a cryptocurrency trading scam, holding that the CFTC has the authority to regulate virtual currency as commodities. The decision additionally defined virtual currency as a “commodity” within the meaning of the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA) and gave the CFTC jurisdiction to pursue fraudulent activities involving virtual currency even if the fraud does not directly involve the sale of futures or derivative contracts. However, the court noted that the “jurisdictional authority of CFTC to regulate virtual currencies as commodities does not preclude other agencies from exercising their regulatory power when virtual currencies function differently than derivative commodities.” Under the terms of the order, the defendants are restrained and enjoined until further order of the court from participating in fraudulent behavior related to the swap or sale of any commodity, and must, among other things, provide the CFTC with access to business records and a written account of financial documents.

    Find continuing InfoBytes coverage on virtual currency oversight here.

    Fintech Virtual Currency Courts CFTC Cryptocurrency Commodity Exchange Act

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  • 2nd Circuit finds bankruptcy claim non-arbitrable


    On March 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit denied a bank’s motion to compel arbitration, holding that arbitration of the debtor’s claims would present an inherent conflict with the intent of the Bankruptcy Code because the dispute concerns a core bankruptcy proceeding. The debtor’s claims against the bank relate to a purported refusal to remove a “charge-off” status on the debtor’s credit file after the debtor was released from all dischargeable debts through a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court allowed the debtor to reopen the proceeding in order to file a putative class action complaint against the bank alleging that the designation amounted to coercion to pay a discharged debt. The bank moved to compel arbitration, based on a clause in the debtor’s cardholder agreement, and the court denied the motion. On appeal, the district court affirmed the bankruptcy court’s decision. In affirming both lower courts’ decisions, the 2nd Circuit reasoned that a claim of coercion to pay a discharged debt is an attempt to undo the effect of the discharge order and, therefore, “strikes at the heart of the bankruptcy court’s unique powers to enforce its own orders.” The circuit court found the debtor’s complaint to be non-arbitrable based on a conclusion that it would create an inherent conflict with the intent of the bankruptcy code.

    Courts Second Circuit Arbitration Bankruptcy Appellate

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  • Fannie and Freddie extend temporary suspension of foreclosure sales

    Federal Issues

    On March 7, Fannie Mae, in Lender Letter LL-2018-01, and Freddie Mac, in Guide Bulletin 2018-04, extended the suspension of foreclosure sales through May 31 of mortgaged properties in FEMA-declared disaster areas in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands due to Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

    Find continuing InfoBytes coverage on Disaster Relief here.

    Federal Issues Disaster Relief Fannie Mae Freddie Mac Foreclosure Mortgages

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  • Department of Education: states do not have the authority to regulate student loan servicers

    Federal Issues

    On March 12, the U.S. Department of Education published an Interpretation in the Federal Register, which takes the position that state regulation of servicers of loans made under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program (Direct Loans) and the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFEL Program Loans) is preempted by Federal law. Specifically, the Department noted that state “regulation of the servicing of Direct Loans” is preempted because it “impedes uniquely Federal interests,” and state regulation of the servicing of FFEL Program Loans “is preempted to the extent that it undermines uniform administration of the program.” The Interpretation was issued in response to several states having recently enacted regulatory regimes, or sought to apply existing consumer protection statutes, imposing additional requirements on such student loan servicers. The Ranking Member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Representative Bobby Scott, D-VA, issued a statement following the notice of publication on March 9, disagreeing with the Department’s Interpretation: “Congress has not given the Secretary the authority to preempt state consumer protection law for student borrowers. . . . I urge the Secretary to reverse this egregious overreach of Federal authority to rescind states’ ability to protect student borrowers and hold unscrupulous servicers accountable.”

    Federal Issues Department of Education Student Lending Preemption Federal Register

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  • FHFA proposes changes to the Affordable Housing Program requirements

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On March 6, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced a proposed rule to modify the Federal Home Loan Banks’ (FHLBanks) Affordable Housing Program (AHP). Under the Federal Home Loan Bank Act, FHLBanks are required to establish an AHP that provides subsidies to low-income consumers to purchase a home; for long-term, low- and moderate-income rental housing; and for the purchase, construction or rehabilitation of qualifying rental housing. According to the FHFA, the proposed amendments are intended to assist FHLBanks in better aligning their AHP funds with the affordable housing needs of their districts. Among other things, the proposed amendments would (i) provide FHLBanks additional authority to allocate their AHP funds; (ii) authorize FHLBanks to establish “special competitive funds” for specific district needs; (iii) allow FHLBanks to create their own project selection criteria; and (iv) align the AHP project monitoring requirements with other federal funding programs. Comments on the proposed rule will be due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Fannie Mae Freddie Mac Servicing Guide FHFA Federal Register

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  • FDIC fines Delaware-based bank for unfair and deceptive practices

    Consumer Finance

    On March 7, the FDIC announced that a Delaware-based bank agreed to settle allegations of unfair and deceptive practices in violation of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act for assessing transaction fees in excess of what the bank previously had disclosed. The FDIC also found that the bank’s practices violated the Electronic Funds Transfer Act, the Truth in Savings Act, and the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act. According to the FDIC, from December 2010 through November 2014, the bank overcharged transaction fees to consumers who used prepaid and certain reloadable debit cards to make point-of-sale, signature-based transactions that did not require the use of a personal identification number. The transaction fees allegedly exceeded what the bank had disclosed to consumers. Under the terms of the settlement order, the bank will, among other things, (i) establish a $1.3 million restitution fund for eligible consumers; (ii) prepare a comprehensive restitution plan and retain an independent auditor to determine compliance with that plan; and (iii) provide the FDIC with quarterly written progress reports detailing its compliance with the settlement order. The settlement also requires the bank to pay a civil money penalty of $2 million.

    Consumer Finance FDIC UDAAP FTC Act EFTA Prepaid Cards Settlement

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  • Pennsylvania Attorney General sues ride-sharing company for 2016 data breach

    State Issues

    On March 5, Pennsylvania Attorney General filed a lawsuit against a ride-sharing company for violating Pennsylvania’s Breach of Personal Information Notification Act (BPINA) because of its failure to disclose a 2016 data breach caused by hackers. The complaint alleges that after the company became aware of the breach, it “paid the hackers at least $100,000 to delete the acquired consumer data and keep quiet.”  According to the complaint, the breached data included the private information of at least 13,500 Pennsylvania drivers. The Attorney General asserts that, under the BPINA, the company must provide notice to the affected residents without unreasonable delay. Instead, the company waited until November 2017 to disclose the incident. Among other things, the complaint seeks civil penalties in the amount of $1,000 or $3,000, depending on the consumer’s age, for each individual BPINA violation.

    The Pennsylvania lawsuit follows similar lawsuits by the City of Chicago and Washington State, previously covered by InfoBytes here.

    State Issues Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Data Breach State Attorney General Courts

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  • Virginia Attorney General sues pension sale lender who targeted retired veterans and government employees; obtains full restitution for customers of online lender

    State Issues

    On March 7, the Virginia Attorney General took action against Delaware- and Nevada-based installment lenders (defendants) for allegedly making illegal loans with excessive annual interest rates that were disguised as “lump sum” cash payouts to Virginia consumers, in violation of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act (VCPA). According to the complaint, the defendants disguised the high interest loans to Virginia pensioners as “Purchase and Sale Agreements” involving a “sale” or “pension advance” in an effort to bypass consumer lending laws, including TILA and Regulation Z disclosure requirements. Furthermore, the complaint alleges that the loans charged interest rates as high as 183 percent, far exceeding the state’s 12 percent annual usury cap, but because they were misrepresented as sales, defendants avoided potential private actions brought by consumers to recover excessive interest payments. The complaint seeks injunctive and monetary relief.

    Separately, on February 23, the Virginia Attorney General announced a settlement with a group of affiliated online lenders and debt collectors (defendants) to resolve violations of the VCPA through the offering of unlawful open-end credit plan loans and engaging in illegal debt collection practices. According to the Assurance of Voluntary Compliance approved earlier in February, between January 2015 through mid-June 2017, the defendants (i) offered open-end credit plan loans and imposed bi-monthly “service fees” that—when calculated with the advertised interest—greatly increased the loan’s cost and exceeded the state’s 12 percent annual limit; (ii) imposed illegal finance charges and other service fees on borrowers during the required 25-day grace period; (iii) contacted consumers in an effort to collect on these loans; and (iv) contacted the consumers' employers to implement wage assignments and garnish wages from consumers' paychecks. Under the terms of the settlement, defendants will provide nearly $150,000 in restitution and debt forgiveness, pay $105,000 in civil penalties and attorneys’ fees, and are permanently enjoined from consumer lending and debt collection activities in the state.

    State Issues State Attorney General Predatory Lending Settlement TILA Regulation Z

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