International SEC Whistleblowers

This article was originally published by JD Supra.

Since the whistleblower program’s inception in 2011, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has awarded approximately $956 million to 195 individuals for their whistleblowing efforts in exposing fraudulent practices in companies worldwide and in the United States. Whistleblowers do not need to be U.S. citizens or residents to qualify for SEC awards. In fact, according to the SEC, 19 of the first 106 awarded whistleblowers were foreign nationals or residents of foreign countries.

While domestic whistleblowers supply the majority of disclosures and provide necessary aid to the SEC, international informants have received overwhelming praise for their whistleblowing efforts in hard-to-reach places.

In September of 2014, the SEC awarded its largest international award to date: a whopping $30 million. Andrew Ceresney, the then Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, said that “this whistleblower came to us with information about an ongoing fraud that would have been very difficult to detect.”

Sean McKessy, former Chief of the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower (OWB), highlighted that this large award demonstrated the program’s “international breadth” as tips from “anyone, anywhere” are highly valued. McKessy added that “Whistleblowers from all over the world should feel similarly incentivized to come forward with credible information about potential violations of the U.S. securities laws.”

Since this award was issued, others of notable importance have followed. In April 2020, $27 million was awarded to an international whistleblower who “provided critical investigative leads that advanced the investigation and saved significant Commission resources.”

The SEC frequently applauds foreign whistleblowers for aiding them in ways that were not possible by the Commission due to geographical limits. In November 2020, an international whistleblower was awarded approximately $3.6 million. The whistleblower “provided substantial and ongoing assistance to enforcement staff, which included traveling to another country at the whistleblower’s own expense to meet with staff in person and providing extensive supporting documentation.” In a 2019 case, Jane Norberg, the then Chief of the SEC OWB, praised a whistleblower who “provided stellar information and ongoing assistance that resulted in the Commission bringing a programmatically significant enforcement action.” Stating that due to the nature of the overseas offense, “without the whistleblower’s tip and assistance, the violations at issue would have been difficult to identify.”

These cases occurring abroad may seem far and detached from U.S. affairs. In fact, they can “have a major impact on U.S. markets while at the same time remaining hard to detect,” according to Norberg. Hence, the SEC continues to welcome and reward whistleblowers from around the world looking to bring justice to harmed individuals on a global scale.


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