Judge: Can't Approve SEC Settlement If Citigroup Doesn't Admit Fraud

I have to say, this story really cheered me up. Holding Wall Street accountable? Making them admit what they did? What a novel idea. Judge Rakoff is going to make a lot of fans with this ruling:

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WASHINGTON — Taking a broad swipe at the Securities and Exchange Commission’s practice of allowing companies to settle cases without admitting that they had done anything wrong, a federal judge on Monday rejected a $285 million settlement between Citigroup and the agency.

The judge, Jed S. Rakoff of United States District Court in Manhattan, said that he could not determine whether the agency’s settlement with Citigroup was “fair, reasonable, adequate and in the public interest,” as required by law, because the agency had claimed, but had not proved, that Citigroup committed fraud.

As it has in recent cases involving Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, UBS and others, the agency proposed to settle the case by levying a fine on Citigroup and allowing it to neither admit nor deny the agency’s findings. Such settlements require approval by a federal judge.

While other judges are not obligated to follow Judge Rakoff’s opinion, the 15-page ruling could severely undermine the agency’s enforcement efforts if it eventually blocks the agency from settling cases in which the defendant does not admit the charges.

The agency contends that it must settle most of the cases it brings because it does not have the money or the staff to battle deep-pocketed Wall Street firms in court. Wall Street firms will rarely admit wrongdoing, the agency says, because that can be used against them in investor lawsuits.

The agency in particular, Judge Rakoff argued, “has a duty, inherent in its statutory mission, to see that the truth emerges.” But it is difficult to tell what the agency is getting from this settlement “other than a quick headline.” Even a $285 million settlement, he said, “is pocket change to any entity as large as Citigroup,” and often viewed by Wall Street firms “as a cost of doing business.”

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