Serious Fraud Investigation Office – Keeping a close watch on frauds in India Inc

The Serious Fraud Investigation Office (‘SFIO’) is an organisation established under the aegis of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (‘MCA’) – for investigation and prosecution of white-collar crimes. The SFIO was constituted in July 2003 following the recommendations of the Naresh Chandra Committee. In 2002, the Naresh Chandra Committee had recommended setting up a ‘Corporate Serious Fraud Office’, to uncover corporate fraud, and supervise prosecutions under various economic legislations.
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The PMLA – is the net cast too wide

The Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (‘PMLA’) has undergone multiple amendments after it was brought into operation on July 1, 2005. Most recently, the PMLA was amended through the –

  • Finance Act, 2015 (‘2015 Amendment’)
  • Finance Act, 2018 (‘2018 Amendment’)
  • Finance Act, 2019 (‘2019 Amendment’)

These amendments aimed to plug loopholes in the operation of the PMLA – to strengthen the framework for tackling money laundering. In furtherance of this objective, the 2019 Amendment has clarified the definition of “proceeds of crime” under Section 2(1)(u). Amendments were also made to Section 45, following the Supreme Court’s decision in the Nikesh Tarachand Shah[1] case – which struck down the pre-conditions for bail prescribed under Section 45(1). Over the years, the list of “scheduled offences” under Schedule I of the PMLA has also been amended significantly. Another aspect that arises in many PMLA proceedings is the admissibility of statements made to investigating officers.
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Year 2020 in Review - The Funds Perspective

Remembering the year 2020 could easily turn one pensive. The year posed unprecedented challenges for the funds industry, driving-forth fundamental changes in the manner business would be conducted alongside the pandemic. The year also marked an important milestone in the ever-evolving regulatory landscape, with several amendments critical for funds and fund managers being rolled out.

SEBI Changes to Scheme Circular - Is it a case of over-prescription

SEBI has been continuously streamlining the regulatory architecture governing schemes of arrangements under Sections 230-232 of the Companies Act, 2013 (“Companies Act”) and Regulations 11, 37 and 94 of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements) Regulations, 2015 (“LODR”) involving listed companies with the introduction of the SEBI Circular dated March 17, 2017 (“SEBI Scheme Circular”). SEBI vide its Circular dated November 3, 2020 (“Amendment Circular”), has introduced further changes to the SEBI Scheme Circular. The Amendment Circular is brought into effect for all schemes of arrangement submitted to the Stock Exchanges on or after November 17, 2020. Changes introduced under the Amendment Circular are as follows:
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Vicarious Liability of Non-Executive Directors - A Case for Reform of Law

Context:

The vicarious liability provisions have been evolving ever since the evolution of law of torts. “Offence by companies” is a standard vicarious liability provision in most statutes, which is often used to fasten the liability on directors for the acts and omissions of the company. These vicarious liability provisions are borrowed from colonial-era laws and incorporated in our domestic legislations. As a rule, there is no concept of vicarious liability in criminal law. Such provisions imposing liability on directors for acts/ omissions of the company are present in most statutes.

The vicarious liability provisions have a standard language providing that the person-in-charge of and responsible for the conduct of the business of the company at the time of the commission of the offence, as well as other officers are liable for that offence. However, those provisions do not make a distinction between Managing Directors (“MDs”)/ Executive Directors (“EDs”) and Non-Executive Directors (“NEDs”)/ Independent Directors (“IDs”).
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Arm’s Length Pricing -Navigational Tools for the Audit Committee

India has one of the most detailed set of laws and regulations governing disclosures and approvals of related party transactions (RPT) regulating both listed and unlisted companies. The provisions of Section 188 of the Companies Act, 2013 (the Act) are applicable if:

  1. a company enters into a transaction with a ‘related party’ as defined under Section 2(76) of the Act;
  2. such transaction falls under any of the categories specified under sub-clause (a) to (g) of Section 188(1) of the Act, an approval of the board of directors will be required prior to entering into such transaction; and
  3. such transaction exceeds the monetary thresholds prescribed under Rule 15(3) of the Companies (Meeting of Board and its Powers) Rules, 2014, prior approval of the shareholders will also be required by way of an ordinary resolution.

Regulation 23 of the SEBI (Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements) Regulations, 2015 (LODR) provides that all material RPTs require shareholder approval through an ordinary resolution and no related party entity shall vote to approve such resolutions whether the entity is a related party to the particular transaction or not. However, all RPTs, whether material or not, require approval of the audit committee.
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PRIOR INTIMATION REQUIREMENT UNDER THE LISTING REGULATIONS - A CRITIQUE 

Introduction

Norms concerning corporate governance in India have evolved over a period of time. Since markets and businesses are inherently dynamic, they continue to evolve globally. The Securities and Exchange Board of India (“SEBI”), to its credit, has been on the ball and contributed significantly towards raising the standards of corporate governance for listed entities in India. The proof of the pudding, however, is in the eating and to this end, this piece examines the relevance of the extant requirement of prior intimation prescribed for listed entities in the current market.

Regulations 29 of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements) Regulations, 2015, as amended (“Listing Regulations”), requires a listed entity to intimate the stock exchanges beforehand if its board of directors (“Board”) have a meeting scheduled to consider certain specified proposals, including financial results, buy-back of securities, voluntary delisting and fund raising (intimation is also required for general meeting or postal ballot for this proposal indicating the type of issuance).
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Striking off Name of a Company - The Jurisdictional Issue

Jurisdiction is not given for the sake of the judge, but for that of the litigant

– Blaise Pascal

Recently the Delhi High Court in Money Market Services (India) Private Ltd. v. Union of India held that an order passed by Registrar of Companies (ROC) striking off the name of a Company can be challenged by way of writ petition only before the High Court, which has territorial jurisdiction over the said ROC.[1]
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Infrastructure Investment Trusts – Simplifying the Structure

The infrastructure sector is a key driver for any economy. Among the many avenues of financing large-scale investments in infrastructure, including mergers and acquisitions, private equity investments and capital raising, setting-up and establishing infrastructure investment trusts (“InvITs”) has begun to gain traction with developers of infrastructure projects, including by public sector undertakings, to enable them to monetise their assets and undertake further infrastructure development. In the last few months, an increasing interest has also been evinced by large private equity firms, development institutions and multilateral and bilateral financial institutions in not only investing in the units of InvITs, but also in setting-up InvITs either on their own or jointly with Indian developers due to the yields offered by InvITs and the favourable and welcome changes to the tax regime applicable to InvITs, including unlisted InvITs.
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The provisions of the Companies Act, 2013 (the Act), and the rules framed thereunder, mandate companies to file requisite documents, including annual returns and financial statements, with the concerned Registrar of Companies (RoC) of their jurisdiction. Non-adherence to such provisions and non-filing of the requisite documents is an offence, exposing non-complaint companies and its directors to severe penal consequences, including fines and prosecution.

However, the records of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) and the National Company Law Tribunals (NCLT) would clearly reveal that a lot of companies have been non-compliant with their filings. This non-compliance has been a menace to all the stakeholders involved, including, inter alia, (i) the companies and directors who have to face penal consequences for such non-compliances; (ii) the MCA and its administration who are engaged in the process of updating the records; (iii) the public/ shareholders who do not get access to the records of the companies; and (iv) the NCLT and the office of Regional Directors, which are burdened with compounding cases.


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