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Thursday, December 27, 2012
SEC CHARGES BROKERAGE FIRM FOR FAILING TO CURB MARKET MANIPULATION
Washington, D.C., Dec. 18, 2012 — The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged a Toronto-based brokerage firm and its top two executives for failing to supervise overseas day traders who used the firm’s order management system to engage repeatedly in a manipulative trading practice known as layering.
In layering, a trader places orders with no intention of having them executed but rather to trick others into buying or selling a stock at an artificial price driven by the orders, which the trader later cancels. The SEC’s investigation found that Biremis – whose worldwide day trading business enabled up to 5,000 traders on as many 200 trading floors in 30 countries to gain access to U.S. markets – failed to address repeated instances of layering by many of the overseas day traders using its system. The firm’s co-founders Peter Beck and Charles Kim ignored repeated red flags indicating that overseas traders were engaging in layering manipulations. Biremis served as the broker-dealer for an affiliated Canadian day trading firm, Swift Trade Inc.
Biremis and the two executives agreed to a settlement in which the firm’s registration as a U.S. broker-dealer is revoked and permanent industry bars are imposed on Beck and Kim, who also will pay a combined half-million dollars to settle the SEC’s charges.
"Engaged and forceful supervisors are the first line of defense against individual misconduct in financial services companies," said Robert Khuzami, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. "Beck and Kim were neither, as they saw obvious red flags of market manipulation by their firm’s traders but failed to respond or take any steps to prevent the manipulation. They have learned the painful lesson that supervisors who fail to heed repeated red flags of misconduct will no longer have any place in the securities industry."
According to the SEC’s order instituting settled administrative proceedings, Biremis, Beck, and Kim exercised substantial control over the overseas day traders. They backed the traders’ trading with capital from Biremis, determined the amount of Biremis capital available to each individual trader to purchase stocks, and set and enforced daily loss limits on each trader. They also wielded authority to reprimand, restrict, suspend, or terminate traders.
The SEC’s order found that many of the Biremis-affiliated overseas day traders engaged in repeated instances of layering from January 2007 to mid-2010. Beck and Kim learned from numerous sources – including three U.S. broker-dealers and a Biremis employee – that layering was occurring, yet they failed to take any steps to prevent it. For example, in spring 2008, representatives of one U.S. broker-dealer warned Beck and Kim that certain overseas traders were "gaming" U.S. stocks by altering those stocks’ bid and offer prices in order to buy or sell the stock at the altered price. Beck and Kim failed to act on this information.
According to the SEC’s order, Biremis also failed to retain virtually all of its instant messages related to its broker-dealer business, and failed to file any suspicious activity reports (SARs) related to the manipulative trading.
"Broker-dealers must recognize that their supervisory responsibilities over their associated persons don’t end at the U.S. border," said Antonia Chion, Associate Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. "Broker-dealers face severe consequences if they fail to supervise their traders who engage in manipulative trading, whether those traders are located in the U.S. or abroad."
The SEC’s order finds that Biremis, Beck, and Kim failed reasonably to supervise the firm’s associated persons (the overseas day traders) with a view to preventing and detecting their layering manipulations. The order also finds that Biremis willfully violated Exchange Act Section 17(a) and Rule 17a-8 by failing to file SARs and Section 17(a) and Rule 17a-4(b)(4) by failing to retain instant messages.
The SEC’s order revokes Biremis’ registration as a broker-dealer and requires the firm to cease and desist from committing or causing violations of Exchange Act Section 17(a) and Rules 17a-4(b)(4) and 17a-8. The SEC imposed permanent industry bars on Beck and Kim, who each agreed to pay penalties of $250,000. Biremis, Beck, and Kim neither admitted nor denied the findings contained in the SEC’s order.
The SEC’s investigation was conducted by senior counsel Paul J. Bohr and supervised by assistant director Ricky Sachar. The SEC acknowledges the assistance of the Ontario Securities Commission, the U.K. Financial Services Authority, and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).