CFTC Continues Efforts to Increase Enforcement Transparency – Issues New Guidance on Evaluating Corporate Compliance Program

On September 10, 2020, the CFTC announced the issuance of new, public, guidance to its enforcement staff on evaluating the adequacy of corporate compliance programs. The new guidance provides enforcement staff a framework with which to assess participants’ compliance programs, and is intended to ensure consistency and transparency in such reviews.

The latest publication continues the Commission’s efforts to increase transparency in the enforcement process. In May, the CFTC formally issued guidance regarding Enforcement’s decisions to recommend the imposition of civil monetary penalties, and last year the Division issued its first public Enforcement Manual. More details on these previous issuances from the CFTC can be found here and here.

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SEC Issues New Risk Alert on “Credential Stuffing” Attacks

On September 15, 2020, the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE) issued a Risk Alert highlighting the recent uptick in “credential stuffing” cyber-attacks against SEC-registered investment advisors and broker dealers.

Credential stuffing is an automated cyber-attack on Internet-based user accounts and firm networks. Attackers obtain usernames and passwords from the dark web and then employ automated scripts utilizing the compromised information to attempt to log in and gain unauthorized access to other customer accounts and firm networks. Credential stuffing has proven to be a more effective way for hackers to gain access to accounts and firm systems than traditional brute force password attacks have been. If the credential stuffing attack is successful, attackers can gain access to and control over customer assets and confidential information.

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CFTC Enforcement Update: A Spoofing Record Breaker & More on “Insider Trading”

A Spoofing Record Breaker

 On August 19, 2020, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) issued three orders filing and settling charges against a bank with a provisionally registered swap dealer (the “Firm”) requiring the Firm to pay $127.4 million for spoofing and making false statements, as well as for swap dealer compliance and supervision violations.

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CFTC Withdraws Regulation AT and Proposes New Electronic Trading Risk Principles

Following the high-profile market disruptions caused by the “flash crash” of May 6, 2010, and the “Knightmare” in August 2012, when a coding error in Knight Capital’s trading software resulted in the firm suffering $460 million in losses over the course of 45 minutes, the CFTC sought to determine existing industry practices around automated trading in the futures markets and to evaluate the need for additional regulations. To this end, in 2013, the CFTC published an extensive Concept Release and sought industry feedback on over 120 questions regarding risk controls and system safeguards around automated trading. Market participants applauded the CFTC’s efforts to foster an open discussion on industry best practices, and the industry devoted significant time and resources to drafting thoughtful responses to the Commission’s questions, with over 50 response letters filed.

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CFTC Releases New Guidance Regarding Civil Monetary Penalties

Yesterday, the CFTC’s Division of Enforcement formally issued new guidance regarding the Division’s decisions to recommend the imposition of civil monetary penalties. According to the CFTC, “[t]he guidance memorializes the existing practice within the Division,” but “has now been incorporated into the Division’s Enforcement Manual.” CFTC, CFTC Division of Enforcement Issues Civil Monetary Guidance.

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DOJ and CFTC Bring Actions Against Precious Metals Traders

Recently, the Department of Justice indicted three precious metals traders in the Northern District of Illinois, charging each them with violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (“RICO”), committing wire and bank fraud, and conspiring to commit price manipulation, bank fraud, wire fraud, commodities fraud, and “spoofing.” Two of those traders were also charged with committing commodities fraud, spoofing, and attempted price manipulation and were named as defendants in a civil suit brought by the CFTC in the same court, alleging violations of the Commodity Exchange Act and CFTC Regulations.

Both the indictment and the civil complaint contend that over the course of approximately seven years, the defendants intentionally manipulated the price of precious metals futures contracts by “spoofing,” or “placing orders to buy or sell futures contracts with the intent to cancel those orders before execution.” Specifically, both the indictment and the CFTC complaint detailed numerous instances in which the defendants allegedly placed “genuine orders” to either buy or sell futures contracts that they intended to execute, some of which were “iceberg” orders placed without publically displaying their full size. According to the indictment and complaint, after such orders were placed, defendants then quickly placed one or more opposite orders, sometimes “layering [them] at different prices in rapid succession” in order to give the impression that demand for such contracts was rising or falling, depending on the nature of the trader’s genuine orders. Once genuine orders were fulfilled, defendants would allegedly cancel the opposite orders prior to execution. The DOJ and CFTC contend that such conduct allowed the defendants “to generate trading profits and avoid losses for themselves” and others, including their employer and its precious metals desk.

According to the indictment, which also relied upon electronic chat conversations between defendants and other co-conspirators (both named and unnamed) and the submission of allegedly false annual compliance certifications, these actions constituted RICO violations as well as fraud. Likewise, the civil complaint alleged that such actions violated the Commodity Exchange Act’s prohibition on spoofing, and seeks monetary penalties, injunctions, and trading and registration prohibitions.

Compliance Officers Beware: Your Conversations With the NFA During Examinations Could Lead to Charges

The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) sent a strong message to Chief Compliance Officers (“CCO”) this week when it held a CCO held accountable for lying to the National Futures Association (“NFA”) during an examination. Also, if you did not believe the CFTC’s message about its intention to reach across borders to pursue bad actors, it’s time to reconsider.

Earlier this year the CFTC instituted a civil enforcement action against Phy Capital Investments, LLC and its CEO, Fabio Bretas de Freitas. The firm was formed in 2016 and the CEO solicited participants to invest in a pool to trade commodity futures contracts. According to the CFTC, despite representing to pool participants that it made substantial commodity trading profits, the firm never engaged in any trading activity and instead misappropriated participant funds. The civil charges against the firm and the CEO included various forms of fraud as well as making misstatements and omissions to the National Futures Administration (“NFA”).

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CFTC v. Kraft

In a Consent Order entered on August 15, Kraft Foods Group, Inc, and its subsidiary Mondelez Global LLC agreed to pay $16 million to settle the CFTC’s complaint alleging the firms manipulated the December 2011 wheat futures markets. The settlement was thought to have ended the litigation, begun in 2015, however, shortly after the entry of the Consent Order, the firms filed a motion seeking contempt sanctions against the CFTC and Commissioners Berkovitz and Behnam. Kraft’s emergency motion alleges the Commission’s statements, and individual Commissioner statements filed concurrently with the Consent Order violated the terms of the settlement.

The Consent Order contained two unusual aspects. First it contained no factual findings or conclusions of law. Second, it contained a clause limiting the parties’ ability to speak publicly on the litigation.

Under the Consent Agreement, both parties agreed to refrain from making any public statements, other than to refer to the terms of the settlement. The CFTC issued a press release outlining the initial claims brought against the firms, and touting the $16 million fine as “approximately three times the defendants’ alleged gain.” The CFTC simultaneously released two other statements regarding the Consent Order, one from the Commission itself, and a joint statement by Commissioners Berkovitz and Behnam.

In their release, the Commissioners stated that the “consent order only limits statements of the Commission as a collective body. Individual Commissioners, speaking in their own capacities, retain their right and ability to speak fully and truthfully about this matter.” The statement goes on to “explain to Congress and the public the basis for the sanctions obtained, as well as the rationale for entering into a settlement agreement rather than pursuing litigation.”

In their motion for contempt, filed last Friday, Kraft argued that the three statements by the CFTC were willful violations of the Consent Order. According to their memorandum in support of the motion, the three statements were released simultaneously in an orchestrated effort to violate the Consent Order, arguing that even if only the CFTC were bound by the Consent Order the Commission violated it “when it endorsed the statements of its Commissioners by identifying them in the CFTC’s official press release, linking to them, and posting them prominently on the CFTC’s webpage announcing the settlement.” Kraft further argued that not only did the violation of the Consent Order harm Kraft, but allowing Commissioners to speak publicly on issues the Commission is prohibited by the Consent Order from discussing will harm future litigants. “There will be no reason for future parties to agree to settlements if the Commissioners – the only parties with the power to bind the CFTC to an agreement in the first place – may simply disregard the agreement without consequence.”

The Commission has since voluntarily removed the press release, Commission statement, and Commissioners’ statement from its website. Judge Blakely has ordered Commissioners Behnam and Berkovitz to appear before the court in person at an evidentiary hearing scheduled for September 12, 2019.