Backdating securities

Even though the transaction may have already happened in substance, it’s important to find out what the other legal consequences may be, so that steps can be taken to mitigate the risks.

These two general areas mean that some legal due diligence should be carried out to identify and address areas for corrective action.

Any person who willfully violates ' any provision' of the Securities Act or the Exchange Act and ' any rule or regulation thereunder' commits a criminal offense, and could be subject to substantial fines as well as imprisonment. Two of these new regulations may give rise to liability, but only for backdating that occurred after August 29, 2002, the effective date of the amendments. Section 302 requires the principal executive and financial officers of publicly-traded corporations to certify each annual or quarterly report filed with the SEC. The officers also certify that they are responsible for establishing and maintaining internal corporate controls to ensure the proper disclosure of all material information.

In addition, regardless of the GAAP accounting method the company used, the company must have recorded some sort of compensation expense for the discounted options. Additional Liabilities Under Sarbanes-Oxley When Congress and the SEC approved the Sarbanes-Oxley Act to amend the Exchange Act, they created additional financial regulations for publicly-owned corporations. Section 403 significantly shortened the time companies are permitted to wait before disclosing transactions involving management or principal stockholders, including option grants. This shortened time frame essentially removes the significant benefits of backdating because the limited volatility most stocks experience over the course of two days narrows the potential discount margin between the market price on the grant date and the strike price. This certification represents that the officers reviewed the company's financial data, and that it presents the financial condition of the company in all material respects. Certain 'performance-based' compensation payments are not counted toward the cap, including stock options that are granted with an exercise price equal to or greater than the FMV of the companies' shares on the date of the grant.

Documenting a transaction which has not yet happened In other cases, it may not be possible to say that the relevant transaction has already taken place – but you may still want to achieve a ‘backdated’ effect.

In this situation, it may be possible to put in place an agreement now, with a historic ‘effective date’.

For example, a reduction of share capital using the UK solvency statement procedure only takes effect in law when it is actually registered with Companies House.

So any attempt to rely on the reduction before registration would be ineffective.

There are three major areas of potential criminal liability for former executives involved in stock options backdating: securities fraud, tax fraud, and mail or wire fraud. Backdating only becomes illegal when executives fail to disclose the practice in financial reports, and fail to properly account for backdated options according to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and the relevant tax laws. Three possible violations of the Internal Revenue Code ('Code') could create criminal liability for backdating: (1) exceeding the compensation deduction limits of Section 162(m), (2) failing to qualify options under the rules that govern incentive stock options in Section 422, and (3) violating the provisions of Section 409A regulating deferred compensation.

As from that date, customers may have been invoiced by the transferee, employees may have been paid by the transferee, and accounting entries may have been made to reflect the purchase price payable for the assets.

Together, these factors may indicate that the beneficial interest in the relevant assets has passed from a legal point of view.

Criminal charges for backdating could include alleged violations of Section 17(a), 15 U. C.77q, which prohibits fraudulent interstate transactions, and Section 10(b), 15 U. This means a company must properly disclose and account for any backdating practices in its financial statements. Furthermore, the failure to record an expense for discounted options granted to employees might result in understated financials, which could in turn make other financial reports inaccurate, particularly net revenues.

The basic violation under these statutes is the same: an intent to defraud another by means of an untrue statement of material fact or an omission of a material fact necessary in order to make a statement not misleading. Regardless of which acceptable GAAP approach a company used in valuing options,a statement in a company's financials stating that the strike price was equal to the fair market value ('FMV') on the grant date would be false or inaccurate if the company backdated options. Aside from interest and penalties that might accrue if a company amends its income tax returns, executives who implemented backdating practices may also be criminally liable for willfully failing to pay taxes, see , e.g., I. C.7202, or providing fraudulent and false statements in a tax return, see , e.g., I.

Leave a Reply