Australia's securities regulator, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, had a nice moment today. ASIC announced that Hui Xiao, a former managing director of Hanlong Mining, was sentenced today to a total of 8 years and 3 months in prison after pleading guilty to insider trading charges. The sentence is reportedly the longest sentence ever imposed in Australia for insider trading and one of the longest ever imposed for white collar crime.
Xiao pleaded guilty to charges involving a total of 102 illegal trades in financial products related to Sundance Resources Limited and Bannerman Resources. Following the sentence, ASIC Commissioner Cathie Armour said that "my message to anyone considering insider trading is ASIC will find you. We will find insider traders and we will prosecute you."
The successful prosecution of Xiao, who has been in custody since his arrest in 2014, is a very welcome bit of good news for ASIC, which has been harshly criticized by the Austrlian press in recent years for being ineffective. Some of ASIC's not-so-greatest hits that I've written about here include:
In 2009, ASIC lost an 8-year-old case against Jodee Rich, which the local press quickly labeled a “monumental, utterly unqualified catastrophe" that should result in ASIC being "put out of its misery” and disbanded altogether.
Also in 2009, ASIC suffered another high-profile loss (a "comprehensive towelling" in the colorful words of one publication) in its case against billionaire Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest and his company, Fortescue Metals Group. The loss combined with the court's order that ASIC pay Forrest's and Fortescue's substantial litigation costs led to more ASIC-bashing by the press (including shots at ASIC for being "incompetent," "embarrassing" and "bull-headed buffoonery," and a new name of "Australia's Simply Ineffective (corporate) Cop").
More recently, in 2014, ASIC Chairman Greg Medcraft stirred up the hornets' nest further when he offered remarks at a business journalism award ceremony. Medcraft stated that a review by ASIC of international white collar criminal penalties showed that “in Australia it’s worth breaking the law to do the trade, it’s a big problem.... Civil penalties for white-collar offences are just not strong enough.” He noted that Australia had not reevaluated its criminal penalties in 20 years, leaving Australia as a “paradise for white-collar criminals.” Medcraft walked back his comments the next day after receiving criticism from the Australian Finance Minister, who reminded Medcraft that it was ASIC's job to ensure that Australia wasn’t a paradise for criminals.
In short, the Xiao case is a nice success story for ASIC, which has not had been able to point to many successes of late.