The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission recently charged a former executive at Morgan Stanley with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) as well as securities laws for investment advisers by secretly acquiring millions of dollars worth of real estate investments for himself and an influential Chinese official who in turn steered business to Morgan Stanley’s funds.
The SEC alleges that Garth R. Peterson, who was a managing director in Morgan Stanley’s real estate investment and fund advisory business, had a personal friendship and secret business relationship with the former Chairman of Yongye Enterprise (Group) Co. – a Chinese state-owned entity with influence over the success of Morgan Stanley’s real estate business in Shanghai. Peterson secretly arranged to have at least $1.8 million paid to himself and the Chinese official that he disguised as finder’s fees that Morgan Stanley’s funds owed to third parties. Peterson also secretly arranged for him, the Chinese official, and an attorney to acquire a valuable Shanghai real estate interest from a Morgan Stanley fund. Peterson was acquiring an interest from the fund but negotiated both sides of the transaction. In exchange for offers and payments from Peterson, the Chinese official helped Peterson and Morgan Stanley obtain business while personally benefitting from some of these same investments. Peterson’s deception, self-dealing, and misappropriation breached the fiduciary duties he owed to Morgan Stanley’s funds as their representative.
Peterson agreed to a settlement of the SEC’s charges in which he will be permanently barred from the securities industry, pay more than $250,000 in disgorgement, and relinquish his interest in the valuable Shanghai real estate (currently valued at approximately $3.4 million) that he secretly acquired through his misconduct. The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a related criminal case against Peterson.
“Peterson crossed the line not once, but twice. He secretly bribed a government official to illegally win business for his employer and enriched himself in violation of his fiduciary duty to Morgan Stanley’s clients,” said Robert Khuzami, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “This case illustrates the SEC’s commitment to holding individuals accountable for FCPA violations, particularly employees who intentionally circumvent their company’s internal controls.”
Kara Novaco Brockmeyer, Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s FCPA Unit, added, “As a rogue employee who took advantage of his firm and its investment advisory clients, Peterson orchestrated a scheme to illegally win business while lining his own pockets and those of an influential Chinese official.”
According to the SEC’s complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Peterson’s violations occurred from at least 2004 to 2007. His principal responsibility at Morgan Stanley was to evaluate, negotiate, acquire, manage and sell real estate investments on behalf of Morgan Stanley’s advisers and funds. He was terminated in 2008 due to his FCPA misconduct.
The SEC alleges that Peterson led Morgan Stanley’s effort to build a Chinese real estate investment portfolio for its real estate funds by cultivating a relationship with the Chinese official and taking advantage of his ability to steer opportunities to Morgan Stanley and his influence in helping with needed governmental approvals. Morgan Stanley thus partnered with Yongye on a number of significant Chinese real estate investments. At the same time, Peterson and the Chinese official expanded their personal business dealings both in a real estate interest secretly acquired from Morgan Stanley as well as by investing together in Chinese franchises of well-known U.S. fast food restaurants. Peterson failed to disclose these investments in annual disclosures that Morgan Stanley required him to make as part of his employment.
According to the SEC’s complaint, Peterson openly credited the Chinese official with helping obtain approvals required from other Chinese government entities for a deal to close. He wrote to several Morgan Stanley employees in response to an e-mail discussing the terms of one of Yongye’s purported investments, “Everyone pls keep in mind the big picture here. YY gave us this deal. … So we owe them a favor relating to this deal. … This should be very easy and friendly.” In another e-mail a week later, Peterson described “YYI” as “our friends who are coming in because WE OWE THEM A FAVOR.”
The SEC alleges that a Morgan Stanley compliance officer specifically informed Peterson in 2004 that employees of Yongye, a Chinese state-owned entity, were government officials for purposes of the FCPA. Peterson also received at least 35 FCPA compliance reminders from Morgan Stanley, but nonetheless committed the FCPA violations.
The SEC’s complaint charges Peterson with violations of the anti-bribery, books and records and internal control provisions of the FCPA, and with aiding and abetting violations of the anti-fraud provisions of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. Peterson consented to a court order requiring him to disgorge $254,589 and relinquish to a court-appointed receiver the interest he secretly acquired from Morgan Stanley’s fund in the Jin Lin Tiandi Serviced Apartments. Peterson’s interest has a current estimated value of approximately $3.4 million. The proposed settlement is subject to court approval. Peterson also has consented to permanent industry bars based on the anticipated entry of the injunctions against him and his criminal conviction.