SEC Settles Nissan Fraud Charges: Don’t Have the CEO Set Their Own Pay!
We have written a couple of times over the past year about the SEC’s Nissan investigation, which (among other reasons) is of interest because Nissan is a Japanese company, and also because of the bold efforts people took to conceal former CEO Carlos Ghosn’s pay.
Yesterday, the SEC announced that it settled Section 10(b)/Rule 10b-5 fraud charges with Nissan, Ghosn, and a former director/HR exec for omitting $140 worth of Ghosn’s compensation from Japanese securities filings – which were published in the US because the company’s securities trade as ADRs on the OTC – and which required information about executive pay. Allegedly, Ghosn went to all this effort to restructure & hide his pay because he was worried that people would criticize the amounts (pro tip: at least in the US, that’s a hint that you’re probably required to disclose the info).
Nissan is ponying up $15 million – while the individuals are getting off with civil fines of $1 million and $100k. Seems like a pretty good deal for those two, based on the allegations in the SEC’s complaint against them – e.g., Ghosn first brainstormed ways to conceal part of his pay by paying it through Nissan-related entities…when that didn’t work, he started entering into secret contracts with employees and executing backdated letters for LTIP awards, and decided that “postponing” pay (along with creative accounting) would get him around the disclosure obligations.
Initially, one problem here for the company might have been faulty internal controls. But according to the SEC’s complaint against the company, the fatal blow was that because Nissan had specifically delegated to Ghosn the authority to set individual pay arrangements – including his own! – he was acting within the scope of his employment when he intentionally misled investors, and the company was liable under the principles of respondeat superior. We can complain all we want about the burdensome listing rules here, but maybe they’re saving some companies from themselves…
-Liz Dunshee, CompensationStandards.com September 24, 2019
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