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Global Glimpses

The Global Glimpses blog follows compliance, risk, and corporate governance news both in Europe and around the world. It covers developments at the International Accounting Standards Board, as well as regulations issued by the European Union, Britain, China, India, and other countries in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Global Glimpses also covers anti-bribery and corruption enforcement around the world as well as other compliance developments abroad. For more information on this blog, click here to e-mail Executive Editor Joseph McCafferty.

U.K. Fines Three Estate Agents for Violating Anti-Money Laundering Rules

April 09, 2014

Three estate agents in the United Kingdom have been fined a combined £246,665 for "significant and widespread" lapses in their anti-money laundering procedures, according to the U.K. Office of Fair Trading. The agents fined by the office were Jackson Grundy Limited, Hastings International UK Limited, and Jeffrey Ross Ltd. The OFT said the firms violated AML regulations, including failing to conduct adequate customer due diligence, failing to monitor ongoing business relationships, and failing to train employees how to spot and handle suspicious transactions.
 

European Commission Backs Greater Shareholder Rights, Power Over Executive Pay

April 09, 2014

The European Commission this week approved a corporate governance package giving shareholders veto power over directors' pay levels. The so-called "say on pay" provision is included in the commission's proposed Shareholder Rights Directive, and calls for a binding vote on a company's remuneration policy every three years, supplemented by annual advisory votes. The policy would be required to include a maximum level of pay as well as information on the ratio between executive compensation and other company employees.
 

Latvia to Join OECD Anti-Bribery Convention

April 08, 2014

Latvia has completed the process to become a member of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development's Anti-Bribery Convention. On May 30, Latvia will become the 41st party to join the Convention. Details inside.
 

U.K. Regulator Hits Besso Ltd. With £315,000 Fine for Anti-Bribery Lapses

April 02, 2014

The United Kingdom's Financial Conduct Authority fined London-based insurance firm Besso Limited £315,000 for failings in its anti-bribery and corruption systems. The U.K. regulator said the firm had significant weaknesses in its policies, especially with regard to establishing and monitoring relationships with third parties. The fine was for violations occurring between 2005 and 2011. The FCA noted that Besso was warned both generally and specifically before a fine was imposed. While Besso did take steps to improve its systems and procedures, including using a law firm to review its ABC policies, those steps were not effective enough, according to the FCA.
 

Money Laundering Hits All-Time High on Management's Agenda, KPMG Survey Says

April 02, 2014

Anti-money laundering issues have become a top priority for senior management at Europe's largest banks, according to KPMG International's 2014 AML Survey. The global survey, conducted in November, finds that 88 percent said AML is now among the highest priorities. That is a sharp increase from 62 percent who said AML was at the top of the list in 2011. The survey also showed rising costs of AML efforts and an increased desire for regulatory guidance.
 

U.K.'s Tullow Oil Breaks Ground in Providing Full Disclosure on Government Payments

March 26, 2014

London-based Tullow Oil became the first firm to meet new European Union transparency rules by releasing project-level data on its payments to governments. The disclosure was made in the U.K. oil firm's annual report, released this week, and came before the 2015 implementation date for the EU Accounting and Transparency Directive. The transparency directive requires oil, mining, and logging companies to disclose payments to governments on the project level.
 

Fight Against Tax Evasion Picks Up Steam in EU as Austria, Luxembourg Sign On

March 26, 2014

After a five-year delay in accepting a European Union law requiring automatic sharing of tax information, Austria and Luxembourg announced last week they would drop their objections to the law. The softening of their position means the anti-tax evasion measure is now ready to move forward throughout the bloc. Leaders of the two nations said they agreed to go forward after receiving assurances from other EU counterparts that quick conclusions would be sought to deals with Switzerland and four other non-EU countries to bring similar rules to fruition there. Austria and Luxembourg's previous objections related to the lack of similar laws in Switzerland and other tax havens.
 

EU Lawmakers Reach Landmark Compromise on Bank Wind-Down Mechanism

March 20, 2014

After many hours of negotiations, European Union lawmakers reached a compromise on the mechanism to wind down troubled banks, the last piece of an EU-wide banking union. Members of Parliament and representatives from the European Commission agreed to the compromise for the Single Resolution Mechanism, which will give the European Central Bank supervisor the power to trigger the resolution process. More inside.
 

European Commission Adopts Technical Standards for Capital Requirements

March 19, 2014

The European Commission last week adopted a package on nine Regulatory Technical Standards as part of the implementation of the Capital Requirements Regulation and Directive, which took effect in January. The standards, developed by the European Banking Authority, will ensure a "stricter" regulatory environment for banks and credit institutions, the commission said. After an objection period ranging from one to three months, the standards will take effect directly without requiring Member States to adopt national implementing legislation.
 

EU Makes Funding for Accounting Authorities Contingent Upon Reforms

March 19, 2014

European Parliament last week agreed to continue funding for global accounting standards setters, most notably the International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation. However, members of Parliament attached conditions to the funding which will require the foundation as well as the European Financial Reporting Advisory Group and Public Interest Oversight Board to become more transparent and avoid conflicts of interest, or risk losing funding. Lawmakers have been concerned that the groups are too closely linked with industry and criticized the quality of IFRS standards as well. MEPs also attached provisions that any standards must address the concepts of prudence and reliability.
 

Tougher EU AML Rules Include Owner Registries, More Due Diligence

March 12, 2014

European Parliament backed tougher anti-money laundering regulations, this week, which would require companies, trusts, foundations, and holdings to disclose their ultimate beneficial owners in public registers housed in each member state of the EU. The legislation also calls on banks, auditors, accountants, and others to step up their vigilance of suspicious transactions, and expands the definition of politically-exposed person to include domestic as well as foreign persons.
 

Proposed Data Protection Reforms Include Stiff Penalties for Violators

March 12, 2014

Companies that run afoul of coming new European Union regulations on data protection and security would face fines of up to €100 million, under a reform package approved by European Parliament this week. Members of parliament overwhelmingly approved the reforms, which still require negotiation with the European Council and European Commission. Parliament's package also includes the requirement that companies also must clearly explain privacy policies and honor requests to erase individuals' personal data.
 

Proposed EU Conflict Minerals Law Lacking Teeth, Critics Say

March 05, 2014

The European Commission unveiled its proposal to tackle the problem of conflict minerals last week. The plan calls on importers and smelters of gold, tin, tantalum, and tungsten to voluntarily follow the guidelines issued by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and to self-certify compliance. Critics assailed the plan as too weak. More on the rules inside.
 

Commission Adopts New Standards to Tighten EU Bonus Cap on Bankers

March 05, 2014

The European Union this week adopted a set of Regulatory Technical Standards (RTS) that will define which staff members of a bank or other financial institution are material risk takers. The distinction will be used to tighten the previously approved cap on banker bonuses in the EU, which limits bonuses to 100 percent of fixed salary or 200 percent with shareholder approval. Internal Market and Services Commissioner Michel Barnier said the standards will help define who the bonus cap applies to, and prevent banks and other firms from circumventing the widely unpopular bonus cap.
 

U.K. Bribery Charges in the Offing for France's Alstom

February 26, 2014

The bribery investigation against French train manufacturer Alstom SA is widening, and the United Kingdom may be close to filing bribery charges against the firm under the U.K. Bribery Act. A five-year investigation, led by the U.K.'s Serious Fraud Office, has included raids on corporate offices as well as private residences of company directors. More inside.
 

Subjective Reporting of Exceptional Items Clouding True Profitability of FTSE 100

February 26, 2014

The majority of non-financial FTSE 100 companies are subjectively reporting exceptional items, which can lead to distorted or inflated pictures of a company's financial health, according to a new study released last week by Standard & Poor's Rating Services. The report found that on average 73 percent of the 82 non-financial companies in the FTSE 100 index reported operating profits that exceeded the unadjusted, audited operating profit based on International Financial Reporting Standards. The report calls for more prescriptive and specific guidance for auditors on underlying earnings and exceptional items. More inside.
 

U.K. Government, Banks Warned of Ukrainian Money Laundering Risks

February 21, 2014

Political unrest in the Ukraine is likely to pose corruption risks for U.K. banks, warns Transparency International in a letter to U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. "The government should take a proactive role to remind all risk sectors, and their relevant regulators, of their obligations to examine money laundering risks related to members and associates of the current Ukrainian regime," it says.
 

EU Companies May Face Non-Financial Disclosure Demands

February 19, 2014

The European Commission is nearing a final vote on a initiative to implement new non-financial disclosures for EU companies. Building upon narrative disclosure requirements in the United Kingdom, new integrated reporting standards, if passed, will require transparency on human rights and social justice, managerial diversity, and anti-corruption efforts.A framework for this new breed of disclosure was released in December.
 

EC and U.S. Hammer Out Deal on Cross-Border Swaps Trades

February 19, 2014

Citing progress on harmonizing cross-border swaps regulations between the European Union and United States, regulators on both sides of the Atlantic have struck their latest agreement. Unlike past demands by the primary derivatives regulator in the U.S. that even Europe based trades comply with their more stringent requirements, the new deal provides for transitional relief until new EU rules are enacted over the next two years.
 

SFO Issues Guidance for Deferred Prosecution Agreements

February 18, 2014

Britain's Serious Fraud Office and the director of Public Prosecutions published a joint code of practice on the use of deferred-prosecution agreements. Conditions attached to a DPA may include disgorgement of profits; payment of a fine; compensation for victims and costs; cooperation in any prosecution of individuals; and implementation of a compliance program, if necessary with a monitor appointed. More inside.
 

U.K. Issues New Sentencing Guidelines for Corporate Fraud

February 12, 2014

The Sentencing Council for England and Wales has issued new sentencing guidelines for corporate fraud. The guidelines will affect entities convicted of fraud, bribery, and money laundering starting in October. The Sentencing Council said the guidelines also may be used by judges as they begin to use deferred-prosecution agreements for the first time in the United Kingdom this month. More details inside.
 

New EU AML Regulations Take Risk-Based Approach

February 12, 2014

The European Commission passed two proposals last week to update the European Union's anti-money laundering regulations. Triggered by revisions to international AML standards, the EC's proposed directive would tighten loopholes in the financial system by taking a more risk-based approach to AML efforts. The regulations would reduce by half the threshold needed to trigger AML procedures and ensure greater consistency among member states. European Parliament is expected to vote on the proposals next week. More inside.
 

Mandatory Jail Sentences Await Financial Markets Manipulators in the EU

February 05, 2014

Tough, EU-wide criminal penalties for serious market abuse offenses will include a minimum four-year jail sentence, under a new law approved by European Parliament this week. The minimum sentence would apply to serious cases of market manipulation and insider dealing, including cases similar to the long-running rate-rigging case involving the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Once formally published, most likely in the June, the new law must be implemented in member states within two years. More on the law inside.
 

Report Shows Corruption Costing EU €120B Annually

February 05, 2014

Corruption remains a major and costly issue for the European Union's member states, according to the inaugural EU Anti-Corruption Report released this week. The report, issued by the European Commission, said corruption costs the EU's economy roughly €120 billion each year. A survey released in conjunction with the report showed 76 percent of Europeans feel corruption is widespread in their country, and 56 percent said corruption has worsened over the past three years. Countries like the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Sweden showed low levels of both perceived corruption and personal experience with corruption by the respondents. Greece and Italy did not fare so well, with nearly unanimous consensus that corruption is widespread in those countries. "Member states have done a lot in recent years to fight corruption, but today's report shows that it is far from enough," Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said in a statement.
 

European Commission Proposes EU Version of Volcker Rule

January 29, 2014

Similar to restrictions in the United State's controversial Volcker rule, which it drew upon, the European Commission on Wednesday proposed new rules to prohibit its biggest banks from engaging in proprietary trading. Supervisors would be empowered to require banks to separate risky trading activities from their deposit-taking business if those activities could threaten financial stability.
 

U.K. Regulator Fines Standard Bank £7.6M for Anti-Money Laundering Lapses

January 29, 2014

The United Kingdom's banking regulator this week hit Standard Bank PLC with a £7.6 million fine for lapses in its anti-money laundering efforts, marking the first time in Britain's history an AML fine has been imposed regarding commercial banking activity. The U.K.'s Financial Conduct Authority said Standard Bank failed to consistently apply adequate due diligence procedures to corporate customers with links to politically exposed persons, which exposed the bank to "unacceptable risk" of being used to launder proceeds of crime. Standard Bank is the U.K. subsidiary of Standard Bank Group, the largest banking group in South Africa.
 

Further Review, Complaints in Offing for International Accounting Standards

January 29, 2014

International Financial Reporting Standards will undergo another review launched this month at the behest of the European Commission. The EC hired the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and audit consulting firm Mazars to assess the impact of using IFRS in the European Union. A previous review on the EU's scope of influence in the IFRS process, released in November, has sparked protests from the heads of the three European Supervisory Authorities. The three chairs in a letter sent last week to Internal Markets and Services Commissioner Michel Barnier objected to proposed changes in the endorsement process and voting model. "Our work is intended to help the European Commission determine whether or not the implementation of the 2002 IAS Regulation has delivered the expected benefits," said Robert Hodgkinson, executive director of the ICAEW.
 

Reluctantly, Sweden Agrees to EU Restrictions on Bank Directors

January 29, 2014

Although banks expected a delay in implementation, the Swedish government will move forward with an EU rule that caps the number of board positions that directors at systemically important financial institutions can hold at four. The requirement goes into effect this summer without a one-year transition period banks aggressively lobbied for.
 

Greater Transparency, Mandatory Rotation on Horizon for EU Audit Firms

January 22, 2014

After nearly four years of negotiations, reforms to audit regulations in the European Union have cleared all but one legislative hurdle before taking effect. A compromise deal struck between the European Parliament and Council last month was approved this week by parliament's Legal Affairs Committee. That leaves just the vote by the full parliament, expected in April, all that remains before the Member States begin to implement the rule changes. Included in the compromise package is a requirement that audit firms rotate every 10 years, with 10- and 14-year extensions possible in some cases, bans on "Big Four-only" clauses in contracts, and caps on non-audit services firms may offer to audit clients.
 

Basel Committee Releases Banking Guidelines for Anti-Money Laundering, Terrorism Financing Efforts

January 22, 2014

The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision has released a new set of guidelines to help banks implement policies to guard against money laundering and the financing of terrorism. The voluntary guidelines cover risk assessment, monitoring, and reporting of suspected money laundering and financing of terrorism, and urge banks to designate a chief AML officer. More on the standards inside.
 

EU Lawmakers Reach Agreement on Overhaul of Financial Instruments Rules

January 15, 2014

After years of difficult negotiations, European Parliament and the Council of Ministers reached an important agreement this week on the overhaul of regulations governing financial instruments. The two groups came to an agreement in principle on the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive II (MiFID), which includes major changes to market transparency, position limits for commodity derivatives to curb speculation and market abuse, and the EU's first regulations on high-frequency trading.
 

European Union Hits New High in 2013 with Antitrust Fines of €1.9B

January 15, 2014

Last year European Union competition authorities raked in a record €1.9 billion in antitrust fines, according to research conducted by law firm Allen & Overy. The total topped the €1.7 billion in fines the EU levied in 2012, and was more than double the amount of fines imposed by the United States in antitrust cases. The lion's share of the EU penalties resulted from the global investigation into banks for manipulating interest rate benchmarks known as LIBOR and Euribor. That investigation and others are ongoing, leading the experts to predict continued high fines for cartel-related activity.
 

EU, German Locked in Dispute Over Anti-Trust Jurisdiction

January 08, 2014

A proposed acquisition of a building materials firm has triggered a dispute between the European Commission and Germany over which competition authority should review the proposed transaction. Swiss-based Holcim, which supplies concrete and other building materials, plans to acquire Cemex West, a group of subsidiaries of Mexico's Cemex Group. Because most of the assets involved in the deal are located in western Germany, German competition authorities requested the matter be referred to the national level. The commission rejected the request, arguing that the competitive effects in the cement market would not be limited to impacts within Germany's borders.
 

Report: EU Stepping Back from Tougher Banking Structural Reforms

January 08, 2014

The European Union's Internal Markets Commissioner Michel Barnier is stepping back from plans to propose a mandatory split of lending and higher-risk trading activities for banks, according to a report published this week in the Financial Times. According to the report a draft proposal from the European Commission calls instead for a less expensive and less restrictive structural reform. The draft proposal gives greater flexibility to national banking supervisors in determining how to implement the reforms. It also includes a proposed ban on proprietary trading that would affect about 30 large banks in the EU. The formal proposal, expected to be released in upcoming weeks, is an outgrowth of the 2012 Liikanen report, which recommended various financial reforms to prevent another financial collapse.
 

OECD Raises Concerns Over Ireland's Anti-Bribery Efforts

January 02, 2014

Ireland still has a long way to go toward implementing and enforcing the bribery of foreign public officials involving international business transactions, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development's Working Group. "This appears to be due to inadequate resources to detect and investigate foreign bribery cases," the report stated. Details inside.
 

U.K. Regulator Fines JLT Specialty £1.8M for Flaws in Anti-Bribery Policies

December 31, 2013

London insurance firm JLT Specialty Limited was fined £1.8M by the United Kingdom's Financial Conduct Authority for failing to maintain adequate checks and controls against bribery and corruption with its overseas third parties. The firm provides insurance broking and risk management services. The fine related to the firm's practices between February 2009 and May 2012, when the FCA said the firm failed to conduct adequate due diligence before entering into partnerships with overseas introducers, and failed to assess potential risks from business won by existing third parties overseas. The regulator said the firm's fine was increased because it ignored numerous warnings.
 

TI Releases New Anti-Bribery Principles for Businesses

December 31, 2013

Anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International has released an updated version of its Business Principles for Countering Bribery, which for the first time calls for a complete ban on facilitation payments. The group said it toughened its stance in light of changing corporate practices and new laws, such as the U.K. Bribery Act, that ban facilitation payments. More inside.
 

Rolls-Royce Faces SFO Bribery Probe

December 23, 2013

Aerospace and automotive company Rolls-Royce confirmed last week that the U.K. Serious Fraud Office has launched a formal criminal investigation into allegations of foreign bribery and corruption in China, Indonesia, and other overseas markets. More details inside.
 

After 46 Years, India Poised to Finally Get an Anti-Corruption Law

December 19, 2013

It took nearly five decades, but India's parliament finally approved tough new anti-corruption legislation this week. Intended to ferret out rampant graft, the Jan Lokpal bill calls for the creation of a national ombudsman's office and state-level agencies to prosecute government officials and workers who receive bribes. Whistleblower protections are also included. More Inside.
 

MEPs Say Only Banking Supervisor Should Initiate Wind-Down of Failing Banks

December 18, 2013

Heading into negotiations with member states representatives, members of the European Parliament adopted the position that the power to initiate the wind-down of a failing bank should reside solely with a central banking supervisor. The "single resolution mechanism" is a key piece of the proposed banking union, aimed at preventing another financial collapse. Germany and other member states have opposed plans to centralize decisions on when a troubled bank should be closed, and who should pay to rescue failing banks. But MEPs agreed with European Central Bank President Mario Draghi that having the decision on when to wind down a bank remain with national regulators does not make sense.
 

EU Lawmakers Pass Audit Reforms Promising Better Supervision, Quality

December 18, 2013

European Parliament and member states this week agreed to sweeping reforms of the audit sector, aimed at improving the quality of audits and reducing conflicts arising from audit firms and longstanding clients. Audit firms will be forced to rotate every 10 years, with certain extension periods possible. Audit firms will be banned from providing certain non-audit services to their audit clients, and permissible non-audit services will face caps. Audit firms will be subject to greater reporting requirements to national authorities as well as the audit committees of clients. The final wording of the legislation must be approved by lawmakers before taking effect.
 

European Parliament Approves New Consumer Protections in Mortgage Market

December 11, 2013

European Parliament this week approved legislation requiring mortgage lenders to boost consumer protection measures and meet new standards of conduct. Among the measures contained in the Mortgage Credit Directive, lenders must provide consumers with better information on the real costs and risks associated with a mortgage, allow either a reflection period before a contract is signed or a period for cancellation after a contract is signed, eliminate early repayment penalties, and better screen mortgage applicants' credit-worthiness. The law also includes the creation of a passport regime for credit intermediaries, allowing an intermediary approved in one member state to offer services throughout the EU.
 

European Commission Fines J&J, Novartis €16M for Delaying Generic Painkiller Release

December 11, 2013

The European Commission this week handed down fines totaling €16 million against Johnson & Johnson and Novartis for violating the European Union's antitrust laws. The commission said the Dutch subsidiaries of U.S.-based J&J and Switzerland's Novartis entered into an unlawful "co-promotion agreement" for the painkiller fentanyl, beginning in 2005 and lasting until late 2006. The commission said J&J's Janssen-Cilag subsidiary essentially paid Novartis subsidiary Sandoz not to release its generic form of the fentanyl patch after J&J's patent expired in the Netherlands. The potent painkiller is often used by cancer patients. J&J was fined roughly €10.8M, and Novartis was fined just under €5.5M.
 

EU, Western Europe Look Strong in Battling Corruption, Survey Shows

December 04, 2013

Anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International gave high marks to the European Union and Western European nations in its annual Corruption Perceptions Index. The index rates the perception of public sector corruption in 177 different nations or territories around the world, scoring the locales on a scale of 1 to 100. The higher the number, the less corrupt a country is viewed. The EU and Western Europe, combined into one group in the index, earned the highest rating, with only 23 percent falling below a score of 50 points. Denmark was ranked first in the group and tied for first overall with New Zealand. Greece was ranked the worst out of the EU group, although it improved from last year.
 

U.K. Banking Regulator Adjusts Capital Regime, Standards

December 04, 2013

The United Kingdom's banking regulator announced last week some adjustments to both its capital offset policy and its capital regime for major banks and building societies. The Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) announced it would extend its capital offset policy for corporations for an additional year. The temporary policy, which had been due to expire at the end of this year, allows firms to offset additional capital requirements due to increased lending. The same policy for household lending will not be extended. The PRA also outlined new requirements for Common Equity Tier 1 (CET1) capital firms must meet beginning next year.
 

2013 Corruption Perceptions Index Lists Most Corrupt Countries

December 04, 2013

Despite new laws and increased enforcement, China and Brazil have failed to improve the level of corruption in their countries, according to the 2013 Corruption Index from Transparency International. Spain slipped to 40th place from 30th, in one of the biggest declines. The United States placed 19th, unchanged from its 2012 rank. More results inside.
 

EU Firms Facing New Rules on Providing Standardized Information for Small Investors

November 26, 2013

European Parliament last week approved new rules outlining what information broker-dealers and investment firms must provide to retail investors before they sell them investment products. The measure calls on firms to provide standardized Key Information Documents (KIDs) containing clear information about the product and any associated risks. Members of Parliament said the aim is to help small, retail investors better understand and compare investment products. The new rules do not apply to insurance products with no surrender value, and deposits.
 

European Parliament Backs Quotas for Women in Non-Executive Board Seats

November 26, 2013

The European Parliament has approved draft legislation that calls on European Union companies to work toward ensuring that 40 percent of their non-executive board seats are held by women by 2020. The directive, which still needs approval from the Council of Ministers, applies to all EU companies listed on stock exchanges and that have at least 250 employees. More inside.
 

EU Lawmakers Agree on Rules to Control Insurance Firms' Investment Risks

November 20, 2013

Representatives of European Parliament, the European Council, and member states reached an agreement last week on new regulations governing the investment risks of insurance firms. The much-anticipated Solvency II legislation will require insurers to boost the capital buffers they hold while recognizing the insurance industry's tendency of longer-term investments makes the sector less affected by sudden market fluctuations. The agreement, which still needs approval by the full parliament, also strengthens and clarifies the role of the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority. The legislation is expected to take effect in January 2016.
 

IASB Finalizes Changes to Financial Instruments Accounting Rules

November 20, 2013

The International Accounting Standards Board released the final reforms to financial instruments accounting rules contained within the International Financial Reporting Standards. The changes include a major overhaul of hedge accounting rules, changes in accounting for "own credit," and a delay in the mandatory effective date of the regulations. More details inside.
 
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