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Partner in the Capital Markets Practice at the Mumbai Office of Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas. S.Vivek focusses on initial public offers, rights issues, qualified institutions placement and ADR offerings. He can be reached at s.vivek@cyrilshroff.com.

SEBI General Order 2020

Markets regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) has recently issued a General Order on issuing observations on offer documents when there are pending regulatory actions, superseding a 2006 general order on the same subject. The General Order 1 of 2020, which was issued on February 5, 2020, sets out the circumstances under which SEBI can withhold observations on draft offer documents (companies cannot launch issues until SEBI provides observations).

We discuss the SEBI order, its implications, and whether this is a step in the right direction for a disclosure-oriented securities regime.
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Continuous disclosure obligations - Indian securities market

A regulatory environment that supports robust secondary market disclosures is critical for a well-functioning securities market. Ongoing disclosures by listed companies are being increasingly scrutinised by regulators, stock exchanges and market participants to see if timely and accurate disclosures of all material information are being made by the listed entity. Accordingly, it is important for companies to ensure that developments in their businesses translate to appropriate regulatory disclosures.

A recent example of the importance of secondary market disclosure is the Facebook case. In 2019, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced charges against Facebook Inc. (“Facebook”) for making misleading disclosures in its periodic filings against the risks pertaining to misuse of its user data by third parties. The SEC alleged that in public disclosures, Facebook presented the risk of misuse of user data as “merely hypothetical”, when they were aware that a third-party developer had actually misused Facebook user data. The SEC press release states that Facebook has agreed to pay $100 million to settle the charges.

We discuss this development and learnings for the Indian market below.
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SEBI-Streamlines-Rights-Issue-Process

The SEBI has streamlined certain aspects of the rights issue process that is expected to not only reduce the timelines but also provide clarity on the renunciation and trading of rights entitlements. These are welcome changes and will potentially make rights issues a preferred option to raise capital for listed companies.

Whilst rights issues are offerings to existing shareholders, it typically takes 55 to 58 days to complete the process (excluding SEBI review and the time taken for due diligence and drafting the offer document). The process involves (i) a minimum 15-day rights issue application period, (ii) mandatory participation by certain investors only through the non-ASBA process (such as through cheque) and (iii) a seven clear working days intimation prior to the record date. SEBI has addressed some of these concerns through amendments to the SEBI ICDR Regulations, SEBI Listing Regulations (both effective from December 26, 2019) and a circular with effect from February 14, 2020.
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Depository Receipts - SEBI Framework SMM

The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has introduced a framework for issuance of depository receipts (DRs) by companies listed or to be listed in India ( DR Framework), by its circular dated October 10, 2019.

In the early years of liberalisation and up to the time SEBI permitted qualified institutions placement (QIPs) in 2006, DR issuances formed a significant and important part of foreign investment into the Indian equity markets. However, in the past five years, there have been very few DR issuances, for a variety of reasons including due to regulatory uncertainty around operational guidelines for DRs and concerns in relation to compliance with rules under the anti-money laundering legislation.
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Superior Orders Defence - Corporate Fraud

The past few years have seen a marked increase in regulatory investigations and enforcement action into fraud. This increased scrutiny brings into focus the liability of the individuals involved in the fraud and the extent to which such individuals are liable.

Typically, when the company has committed fraud, persons who are responsible for the actions of the company – the ‘directing mind and will– are held liable. In contrast, where a fraud is committed on the company and/or its shareholders, it involves identifying both, the officers at whose behest, or for whose benefit, such actions were undertaken, as well as persons who executed the fraud. 
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