by Ben Bain
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission awarded $22 million to a former Monsanto Co. employee who tipped off the regulator to improper accounting, according to the whistleblower’s attorney.
The whistleblower was a financial executive with Monsanto, which agreed in February to pay $80 million to settle with the SEC in a case tied to reporting of revenue from its weed-killer Roundup, according to Stuart Meissner, the ex-employee’s attorney. Meissner didn’t identify the tipster by name in a statement released Tuesday.
The SEC said in February that Monsanto booked revenue without properly recognizing all of its costs, which caused to company to misstate earnings and led to three accounting and sales executives paying penalties to settle the agency’s claims. The St. Louis-based company, which settled without admitting or denying wrongdoing, had agreed to hire a consultant to examine its accounting controls and policies.
“I’ve seen all different types of whistleblowers, and from that perspective he is the ideal poster child of the type of whistleblower that the SEC is seeking,” Meissner said in a telephone interview. “Someone who has enough knowledge, being internal, that he knows exactly where the dead bodies are buried and can give detailed information.”
Meissner said his client came forward after he tried to do the right thing internally, but was “stymied” and didn’t get the assistance of outside auditors that he sought. While his client faced ramifications internally, retaliation by Monsanto was limited and less than other whistleblowers have faced, according to Meissner. The tipster left the company on his own accord, the lawyer said.
“Monsanto remains committed to operating its business with the utmost integrity and transparency and in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations,” Charla Lord, a company spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement. She said it would be inappropriate for the company to comment on the SEC’s whistleblower program or the specific reward.
The SEC declined to comment on the identity of the whistleblower. However, the agency did say earlier Tuesday that the person provided a “detailed tip and extensive assistance” that helped the SEC stop illicit conduct at the individual’s employer.
The award was the largest since a $30 million payment announced in 2014, and the second biggest payout ever. Whistleblowers are eligible for payouts if they voluntarily provide the SEC with unique information that leads to a successful enforcement action. Compensation can range from 10 percent to 30 percent of the money collected in a case beyond $1 million.
The agency said it’s awarded more than $100 million since the inception of the whistle-blower program in 2011. The SEC said in a statement that its whistleblower’s office had received more than 14,000 tips that led to enforcement actions with more than $500 million ordered in sanctions.
--With assistance from Lydia Mulvany. To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Bain in Mexico City at [email protected]
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jesse Westbrook at [email protected]
Alexis Leondis, Gregory Mott
© 2016 Bloomberg L.P