The revised Federal Act on Stock Exchanges and Securities Trading (SESTA) is expected to enter into force on 1 April 2013. In particular, the rules on insider trading and price manipulation will be revised and transferred from the Swiss Penal Code (SPC) to the SESTA. These offences will newly also be sanctioned based on regulatory provisions. After the revision, insider trading and price manipulation will qualify as crime (Verbrechen) if a financial profit of more than CHF 1 million is realised. In addition, the obligations to disclose significant shareholdings and to make an offer will be amended. Furthermore, the competence to prosecute and judge the offences of insider trading and price manipulation will be shifted from the cantonal level to the federal level.
Revision of SESTA
In September 2012, the Swiss parliament approved the draft bill for a revised SESTA (nSESTA) and thus a more stringent capital market criminal and regulatory law. The nSESTA will presumably enter into force on 1 April 2013.
The revision aims at strengthening the Swiss financial market’s integrity and competi- tiveness by adapting the Swiss capital market criminal and regulatory law to inter- national standards and thereby creates rules which efficiently sanction stock market offences and market abuse. The revision includes other changes (such as the abo- lition of the so-called control premium or the widening of the scope of application of the disclosure and the takeover rules), which are however not further addressed in this article.
As of today, insider trading is an offence which can only be committed by the types of persons expressly mentioned in art. 161 SPC who have access to ma- terial, non-public information due to a privileged position (Sonderdelikt), such as directors or managers, auditors or agents of the company, members of a government agency or public servants, or as any auxiliary person to any of the aforementioned, whereas employees without direct contact to the decision-makers of a company, shareholders or persons who incidentally become aware of confidential information are not covered by this provision. Such narrow definition was heavily criticised as failing to sufficiently protect the functional- ity of the financial market and the equal treatment of investors. In order to improve this situation and to harmonise Swiss law with the law of most EU member states, the definition of insiders was extended. Art. 40 nSESTA fore- sees the following groups of insiders:
- a primary insider may, apart from the persons who can be insiders al- ready under current law, be any- one who due to their activity (such as the head of the M&A or legal de- partment) or shareholding has access to inside information. A primary in-sider is sanctioned with imprisonment of up to three, respectively five (if qualified, cf. below) years, or with a fine (art. 40(1) and (2) nSESTA);
- a secondary insider (until now re- ferred to as tippee) is a person who receives targeted information from a primary insider (such as a journalist who is informed beforehand about confidential information) or a person who obtains information through the commission of a crime or misde- meanour. A secondary insider is sanctioned with imprisonment of up to one year or with a fine (art. 40(3) nSESTA); and
- a person who accidentally receives inside information (accidental insider) is sanctioned with a fine (art. 40(4) nSESTA).
All three kinds of insiders are liable if they realise a financial profit by tak- ing advantage of the inside information through the purchase or sale of secu- rities which are traded on a Swiss stock exchange or a similar institution or through the use of financial instruments derived from such securities. Primary insiders are moreover sanctioned if they realise a financial profit by disclosing the inside information to another person or by taking advantage of this infor-mation to recommend to another person the purchase or sale of securities pub- licly traded in Switzerland or the utilisa- tion of derivative financial instruments. By including the latter, transactions with OTC products will be expressly sanc- tioned. Under current law, this is disputed.
To ensure compliance with the Re- commendations of the Financial Action ratification of the Council of Europe Con- vention on Laundering, Search Seizure and Confiscation of Proceeds from Crime and on the Financing of Terrorism of 16 May 2005, art. 40(2) nSESTA states a new qualified form of insider trading according to which primary insiders are punished with imprisonment of up to five years or a fine if they realise a finan- cial profit exceeding CHF 1 million. Because such newly introduced first de- gree incriminated conduct on insider trading qualifies as crime, it can serve as a predicate offence (Vortat) to money laundering.
Besides the criminal assessment of in- sider trading, the revision will also include a regulatory provision of insider trading (art. 33e nSESTA). Contrary to the market conduct rules prescribed by the FINMA Circular 08/38 which ap- ply to regulated market participants only, art. 33e nSESTA will apply to all mar- ket participants. The Ordinance on Stock Exchanges and Securities Trading (SESTO) will be revised (nSESTO) and contain exceptions (so-called safe harbour rules) to art. 33e nSESTA. In con- trast to its criminal equivalent, art. 33e nSESTA does not require that the offend- er acts wilfully for financial profit and that such financial profit is realised.
The statutory offence of price mani- pulation will also be moved from the SPC (art. 161bis) to the nSESTA (art. 40a). The changes made to this provision will, however, only contain minor editorial revisions and precisions.
Like insider trading, and for the same reasons, price manipulation will be treated as a crime after the revision and can therefore serve as a predicate offence to money laundering if the offend- er realises a financial profit of more than CHF 1 million (art. 40a(2) nSESTA).
While art. 40a nSESTA will (as art. 161bis SPC currently does) only punish simu-lated transactions, the newly created re- gulatory provision of art. 33f nSESTA (market manipulation) will also sanction manipulative real transactions such as ramping/camping/pegging, or squeez- ing/cornering, spoofing, front- and parallel running as well as scalping. Due to this widened scope of application, the aforementioned safe harbour rules in nSESTO will have to be observed. Like art. 33e nSESTA, art. 33f nSESTA will also apply to all market partici- pants and not require the element of financial profit.
Violation of the Obligation to Dis- close Significant Shareholdings and the Obligation to Make an Offer
The existing art. 41 SESTA sanctions the violation of the obligation to disclose significant shareholdings according to art. 20, and art. 31 SESTA (in case of public takeover offers) respectively, with fines of up to the double of the pur- chase price. The nSESTA accounts for the criticism expressed in academic writ- ing that this punishment is draconic, and foresees a maximal fine of CHF 10 million.
Furthermore, in order to improve the en- forcement of the existing obligation to make an offer when acquiring equity securities, which, added to securities already owned, exceed the threshold of 33 1/3% of the voting rights of a tar- get company (art. 32 SESTA), the wilful violation of such obligation, if estab- lished as legally binding, is punished with a fine of up to CHF 10 million (art. 41a nSESTA).
Competence of the Federal Prosecutor
As of today, the offences of insider trad- ing and price manipulation were pro- secuted on a cantonal level and brought before cantonal courts. Pursuant to art. 44 nSESTA, the Federal Prosecutor’s office is the new prosecution body. The court of first instance deciding on these crimes is the Swiss Federal Criminal Court, and appeals are judged by the Swiss Federal Supreme Court. The reason for the new federal compe- tence is bundling the special know- how necessary to prosecute and judge insider trading and price manipu- lation. The Federal Department of Fi- nance (EFD), however, remains com- petent to prosecute the violation of the obligation to disclose significant shareholdings (art. 41 nSESTA), and of the obligation to make an offer (art. 41a nSESTA), respectively.
The revision of SESTA, in particular mov- ing the offences of insider trading and price manipulation to the nSESTA and the adaptations to the EU rules, will bring welcome changes to and a uni- form codification of the capital mar- ket criminal and regulatory law as well as improvements of the Swiss finan- cial market’s competitiveness and repu- tation on an international level. This applies particularly to the widened defi- nition of offenders under the revised insider rules. Furthermore, the transfer of the competence to prosecute in- sider trading and price manipulation to the federal level makes sense be- cause the cantonal authorities some- times did not have the resources and expert knowledge to deal with these complex issues. In any case, it re- mains to be seen whether the revised law eventually proves to be effective in legal practice.