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商业 - 金融

美国打击商业犯罪搞“连坐”

Roger Parloff 2013年07月30日

长期以来,美国法律的不寻常之处在于,对于是否因为某一位雇员的不法行为而惩罚该员工就职的整个公司,联邦检察官拥有巨大的裁量权。最近,美国一家法庭就因为几名员工的内幕交易正是向对冲基金SAC Capital Advisors提起了起诉,控告这家公司涉嫌电信欺诈和证券欺诈。

    上周四,对冲基金SAC Capital Advisors因电信欺诈和证券欺诈被正式起诉,而就在不久前,这家基金公司的六名员工已经向法庭认罪。看来SAC基本无法否认上述指控。

    这并非我个人针对SAC及其创始人斯蒂芬•A•科恩的道德标准以及对两者的指控力度的主观看法。我只是观察到了美国法律中一个长期存在的特殊之处。(SAC在一份声明中强调:“少数人承认违法并不能反映过去21年来为SAC服务的数千位员工不具备诚信与正直的品性。我们正在调查相关事宜,SAC也将继续正常运营。”)

    2007年,一位知名法律评论员发表了一篇长达32,000英文单字的司法评论文章。他对这个案例的解释如下:“理论上,一家大型跨国公司可能会因为某个小职员的不法行为而被起诉、定罪,甚至破产。这个员工的级别可能很低,而且并不具备任何高管经验,但违反了一些广为人知的条款、实践和程序。”

    文章指出:“几乎每位研究过美国法律的评论家都对”这项十分不合情理的规定“多有责难”。这项规定源自1909年美国最高法院的一次审判。法庭当时根据一位助理货运主管的定罪判决整个纽约中心铁路公司违法。文章随后指出,此次判决堪称一次“司法大地震,影响极其深远,到现在还未完全消散。它彻底改变了整个商业犯罪的定罪模式,联邦检察官从此开始扮演起商业、制造和市场监管者的角色。”

    时任查尔斯•舒曼参议员首席法律顾问的普瑞特•巴哈纳纳正是文章的作者。巴哈纳纳于2009年8月开始担任纽约南区法院(包括曼哈顿地区)检察官。此次对SAC的起诉有可能成为他在该法院的最耀眼成绩。【2007年,巴哈纳纳在《美国刑法评论》(the American Criminal Law Review)冬季刊上发表了一篇意味深长的文章,“公司已认罪,但员工纷纷叫屈”。可点击此处购买该书。】

    尽管巴哈纳纳在文中对适用法律的惊人广度表达了疑虑,但他对SAC提起此次公诉不存在任何伪善之处。他对SAC的公诉远不是根据某一位“低级别无赖员工”的犯罪行为。然而,巴哈纳纳对法律,以及法律给予联邦检察官决定是否因为一小撮不法员工的行为惩罚一家大企业(SAC拥有约1,000名员工)的巨大权力的疑虑,或许有助于解释他为何在起诉书中如此大费周章的向公众解释这一起诉的必要性。

    巴哈纳纳干得漂亮。这份诉讼书列举了六名已经认罪的SAC高管(投资组合经理和研究分析师),还列举了两位正在接受审判的SAC投资组合经理(马修•马托玛和迈克尔•斯坦伯格);引用了不少发送给首席执行官科恩的电子邮件,其中包含至少看似可疑的信息,科恩甚至还回复了某些邮件,却没有把它们移交给公司合规部门;诉讼书称,SAC倾向于雇佣那些素以获取来源可疑的信息闻名的分析师(例如,投资组合经理理查德•李上周认罪,他承认SAC因内幕交易而雇佣自己);SAC本身的制度结构和薪酬体系都在极大地鼓励内幕交易;SAC的合规部门形同虚设,对如此规模的违法交易置若罔顾。法院指出,“SAC的合规部门在公司成立以来只查出了一起微不足道的内幕交易。”而当事人也只是被处以一笔数额很小的罚金。根据已经认罪的投资组合经理供认,SAC的员工们在此期间利用内幕信息大肆操作股票交易。涉及股票包括Elan、惠氏(Wyeth)、戴尔(Dell)、英伟达(Nvidia)、英特尔(Intel)、AMD、RIMM、雅虎(Yahoo)、3Com、阿尔特拉(Altera)、台积电(Taiwan Semiconductor)、思科(Cisco)、博通(Broadcom)、eBay、赛普拉斯半导体(Cypress Semiconductor)、宝利通(Polycom)、Qlogic、Cirrus Log、美满电子(Marvell Technology)、Avent、飞兆半导体(Fairchild Semiconductor)。

    Hedge fund powerhouse SAC Capital Advisors, indicted Thursday for wire and securities fraud violations after six of its employees pleaded guilty to those charges, appears to have close to no legal defense to the charges it faces.

    That's not a subjective statement on my part about the ethics of that company or its owner, Stephen A. Cohen, or the strength of the case against either of them. It's a simple observation about an extraordinary and longstanding anomaly in American law. (In a statement, SAC says, "The handful of men who admit they broke the law does not reflect the honesty, integrity and character of the thousands of men and women who have worked at SAC over the past 21 years. SAC will continue to operate as we work through these matters.")

    In a 32,000-word law review article published in 2007, one eminent legal commentator explained the problem: "A multinational corporation may theoretically be indicted, convicted, and perhaps put out of business based on the alleged criminal activity of a single, low-level, rogue employee who was acting without the knowledge of any executive or director, in violation of well-publicized procedures, practices, and instructions of the company."

    This highly non-intuitive state of the law -- one that "has been decried by virtually every commentator who has thought to study it," the article notes -- goes back to a 1909 U.S. Supreme Court case in which the Court affirmed the criminal conviction of the whole New York Central railroad company on the basis of actions committed by one assistant traffic manager. That ruling was "a legal earthquake whose tremors are still being felt today," the article continues. "It forever changed the complexion of business crime prosecution and ushered in an age when government prosecutors would assume the role of regulators of commerce, manufacturing, and markets."

    The article's author was Preet Bharara, who was then chief counsel for Senator Charles Schumer and who, since August 2009, has been the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (i.e., Manhattan). His office's indictment of SAC may become the crowning achievement of his term in office. (Bharara's thoughtful article, "Corporations Cry Uncle and Their Employees Cry Foul," in the Winter 2007 issue of the American Criminal Law Review, can be purchased here.)

    There is no hypocrisy whatsoever on Bharara's part in bringing this indictment against SAC notwithstanding his qualms, voiced in the article, about the breathtaking breadth of the applicable law. His indictment against SAC is hardly based on the transgressions of a single "rogue, low-level employee." Yet his qualms about the law, and about the enormous power it gives to federal prosecutors in deciding whether to punish a large corporation (SAC has about 1,000 employees) for the acts of a handful, may help explain why Bharara has gone to such lengths in the indictment to explain to the public why this particular indictment is warranted.

    He makes a good case. The indictment lists six guilty pleas already entered by high-level SAC employees (portfolio managers and research analysts); it lists indictments pending against two more SAC portfolio managers (Mathew Martoma and Michael Steinberg); it cites a number of emails alluding to at least prima facie suspect information that was passed along to CEO Cohen himself and, in some cases, responded to by him, without triggering referrals to compliance officials; it alleges that SAC gave hiring preference to individuals with reputations for obtaining information of suspicious origin (portfolio manager Richard Lee, who pleaded guilty this week, was allegedly hired by SAC over its legal department's objections, for instance); it alleges that SAC's institutional structure and compensation incentives effectively encouraged and rewarded insider trading; and it alleges that SAC's compliance program was feeble and ineffective in the face of all the huge enticements to transgress. The government alleges that "SAC's compliance department contemporaneously identified only a single instance of suspected insider trading by its employees in its history," for instance, and that the trader in question was punished with a mere fine. Meanwhile, the firm's employees managed, according to admissions its portfolio managers have made in guilty pleas, to use inside information to trade in the stocks of Elan, Wyeth, Dell, Nvidia, Intel, AMD, RIMM, Yahoo, 3Com, Altera, Taiwan Semiconductor, Cisco, Broadcom, eBay, Cypress Semiconductor, Polycom, QLogic, Cirrus Log, Marvell Technology, Avent, and Fairchild Semiconductor.

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