WHAT IS FRONT RUNNING – A Q&A PIECE IN LIGHT OF THE SEBI ORDER AGAINST DEALERS OF RELIANCE SECURITIES LTD

Introduction

In an interim ex-parte order last month against the dealers of Reliance Securities Limited (“RSL”) and other related entities (“RSL Order”)[1], SEBI prima facie held over two dozen entities to have engaged in front running the trades of Tata Absolute Return Fund, a scheme of Tata AIF (“Big Client”).

During its preliminary examination, SEBI meticulously pieced together several bits of available circumstantial evidence and alleged an archetypal scheme of front running purportedly employed by three senior dealers (“Dealers”) at RSL, in nexus with various related entities. The RSL Order alleges that once the Dealers at RSL were privy to the non-public information of the impending orders of Big Client, they along with their connected broker or dealer entity would, through multiple trading accounts directly or indirectly controlled by them, place trades either in the Buy-Buy-Sell pattern or Sell-Sell-Buy pattern, around the time of the orders of the Big Client to generate substantial proceeds.
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ESOPS as Managerial Remuneration - Do Regulators Need to Revisit Regulatory Architecture

Employee Stock Option Plans (ESOPs) are a well-recognised method of compensating employees and attracting and retaining the best talent. Compensation in the form of equity shares helps in creating a sense of ownership in the mind of employees. Benefit schemes for employees, including ESOPs, have gained popularity, especially in technology start-ups that have limited financial resources in the initial years, but want to attract the best talent. ESOPs are the option or a right, but not an obligation, which is offered by a company to its employees to purchase its shares at a pre-determined price in the future. ESOPs align the interest of the employees with long term interest of the companies and play a vital role in retaining employees at the growing stage of the company.

Section 2(37) of the Companies Act, 2013 (“Act”), defines ‘employees’ stock option’ as the option given to directors, officers or employees of a company or of its holding company or subsidiary company or companies, if any, which gives such directors, officers or employees, the benefit or right to purchase, or to subscribe for, the shares of the company at a future date at a pre-determined price. The Act expressly prohibits ESOPs for Independent Directors[1] as the law makers believe that it compromises the ‘independence’ of such Independent Directors. Section 62(1)(b) of the Act provides for the approval of shareholders by a special resolution. Rule 12 of the Companies (Share Capital & Debentures) Rules, 2014, lays down the legal framework for issuance of ESOPs for unlisted companies. Listed companies having ESOP plans are required to comply with the SEBI (Share Based Employee Benefits) Regulations, 2014 (“ESOP Regulations”).
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SEBI report on RPTs – Deeper Reflections

SEBI had implemented the Kotak Committee recommendations on Related Party Transactions (RPTs) by making amendments to the Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements Regulations, 2015 (“LODR”) on May 9, 2018. In less than two years, in November 2019, SEBI constituted a Working Group (WG) to re-examine the RPT provisions of the LODR, against the backdrop of new corporate scandals, which surfaced, where certain abusive RPTs were undertaken by the listed entity at a subsidiary level, which were not captured by the LODR provisions. The WG Report addressed this loophole and made several recommendations, which were examined by the author in his blog article titled “SEBI Working Group on Related Party Transactions: Will the net be cast too wide? published on February 5, 2020.

In this Blog, the author wants to share his deeper reflections on some of the recommendation made in the WG report. The author argues that this WG report requires a more detailed scrutiny by the SEBI, before it is enacted into a law, by amendments to the LODR. Both these blogs should be read together to get a complete picture of the changes proposed in the WG report.
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Recent amendments to the insider trading regime

Since overhauling the insider trading regime with the introduction of the SEBI (Prohibition of Insider Trading) Regulations, 2015 (“PIT Regulations”), the Securities and Exchange Board of India (“SEBI”) has continually sought to fine tune and tweak the regulations through amendments in 2018 and 2019. On July 17, 2020, SEBI notified the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Prohibition of Insider Trading) (Amendment) Regulations, 2020 (“PIT Amendment”), to introduce further changes to the PIT Regulations.
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The most valuable commodity I know of is information.

– Gordon Gekko, Wall Street

Over the past few weeks, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has passed three orders[1] (SEBI Orders) in the infamous ‘WhatsApp leak’ saga that has been in the news since November 2017[2]. Holding the impugned perpetrators guilty of violating insider trading regulations, the regulator has taken significant steps in pushing the boundaries of the concepts of insider, UPSI and insider trading.


Continue Reading SEBI and WhatsApp leaks: Every link in the chain matters

To battle the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the central government and the various state governments imposed a nationwide lockdown in India. Additionally, to arrest the spread of the pandemic, government authorities and corporates are promoting “work from home”, and wherever necessary to work with minimum work force. Acknowledging the difficulties faced by corporates on account of the threat posed by COVID-19, requiring social distancing in day-to-day functioning, governmental authorities have granted various exemptions and reliefs by issuing circulars and amending rules to ease compliance requirements to be complied by companies.

This blog analyses the recent reliefs and relaxations announced by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Government of India (MCA), and the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), which may have an impact on financing transactions.


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DISCLOSURE OF COVID-19 IMPACT BY LISTED ENTITIES - FINDING THE RIGHT BALANCE

Across India, each subsequent phase of the lockdown has permitted a responsible increase in economic activity. As companies re-start their operations, they continue to assess the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on their businesses and operations, which is rapidly and continuously evolving. Listed entities are particularly conscious of their disclosure obligations, more so after the Securities and Exchange Board of India (“SEBI”) issued a circular on May 20, 2020 (the “Circular”), that outlined the relevant considerations for companies in relation to the disclosures on the impact of Covid-19 on their businesses, performance and financials. The Circular is not only a restatement of the current principle-based disclosure regime, but is also indicative of the regulatory expectation on disclosures going forward in relation to impact of Covid-19 pandemic as it evolves.
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Overriding the IBC’s over-rider

Insolvency resolution regimes, globally, function as an exception to otherwise accepted norms of commercial law.[1] The Indian Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (“Code”), is no exception: a mere glance at the Code will display how it has a liberal sprinkling of non-obstante clauses.[2] From a specific dispute resolution mechanism, to an overarching carve out for insolvency resolution mechanism, the legislature has inserted non-obstante clauses in the Code as guidance of its intent. One would imagine that this would have ensured sufficient clarity for all stakeholders, avoided disputes and ensured timely insolvency resolution. Yet, as market participants try to understand the scope and intent of non-obstante clauses in the Code, such clauses continue to generate legal debate and litigation[3]. Perhaps, the stakes are too high for the parties to resist litigating. And some would argue not without good legal reason: after all, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has over the years identified exceptions[4] to the Latin maxim ‘leges posteriores priores contraries abrogant’ i.e. in the event two special statutes contain non obstante clauses, the non-obstante clause in the chronologically later special statute shall prevail[5].
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SEBI CONSULTATION PAPER FOR LISTED COMPANIES WITH STRESSED ASSETS - CURE FOR THE SICK COULD BE VACCINE FOR ALL 

With the slowdown in the economy and unprecedented business disruption due to Covid 19, several Indian listed companies, which were already heavily leveraged, will soon be looking at avenues for further funding to meet working capital requirements and liquidity challenges. Given the current regulatory regime surrounding raising of equity capital, it is possible that some of the over-leveraged ones may become insolvent. With a view to facilitate fund raising by such listed companies that have stressed assets, the market regulator has come up with a consultation paper, that provides certain procedural relaxations to the SEBI (Issue of Capital and Disclosures Requirements) Regulations, 2018 (ICDR Regulations) and SEBI (Substantial Acquisition of Shares and Takeovers) Regulations, 2011 (SAST Regulations).
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Innocent Tippee Liability under Insider Laws

The SEBI Insider Trading Regulations prohibit trading in securities whilst in possession of unpublished price sensitive information (UPSI). It also states that when a person holds UPSI and trades in securities, his trades would be ‘presumed’ to have been motivated by the knowledge and awareness of such information in his possession.

Given that the burden of proof is on the insider to establish that his trade was not motivated by awareness of such information, the Regulations to provide statutory defences for the insider to prove his innocence. The stated defences, which are illustrative in nature, however, do not include a circumstance where a person has received UPSI and relied on it to make a trade under the assumption that it is publicly available information. The ‘innocent recipient’ was proposed as a statutory defence in the NK Sodhi High Level Committee Report, but did not find its way into the final form of the amended regulations. This defence was meant to be available if the recipient had no reason to believe that the information in his possession was UPSI or the person who communicated it to him violated any law or confidentiality obligation. As per the report, the insider would need to prove that he did everything reasonably in his power to confirm that the information in his possession was not UPSI (i.e. exercise of diligence expected of a reasonable man) and that he traded bona fide.
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