The Securities and Exchange Commission's chief enforcement officer has called for legislation that would put foreigners on notice that when they trade on U.S. securities markets they are subject to the same laws as U.S. citizens.
John M. Fedders, head of the Securities and Exchange Commission's criminal investigation division, has asked Sen. William Roth's (R-Del.) permanent subcommittee on investigations to consider a law mandating that "the act of trading securities in the U.S. shall constitute a waiver" of secrecy laws.
When information is withheld, Fedders suggested Congress could provide for enforcement by authorizing the SEC to impound dividend or interest payments, to revoke or suspend shareholder voting rights, and to order that the person withholding information can neither register ownership nor trade the securities involved.
Fedders said an agreement in a "memorandum of understanding" between Switzerland and the SEC, signed last year, didn't go far enough.
After the memorandum was signed last August, Swiss banks notified their customers that, under certain conditions, the banks may have to release formerly confidential information about stock transactions on U.S. exchanges by the banks' customers. However, the agreement basically applies only to abuses of insider trading in tender offers, has yet to be implemented, and Switzerland is the only party to it.
Fedders praised the cooperation of the Swiss, but noted that "additional steps may be required to enable the SEC to protect the U.S. securities markets from fraud and manipulation.
"We must send a clear message to all persons who save and invest in the U.S. securities markets," Fedders said: "We welcome your participation, but you cannot expect preferential treatment. If you want to trade in our markets, you must agree to play by our rules."
From 1978 to 1982, stock and bond transactions in the U.S. by non-U.S. financial institutions rose from $23 billion to $53 billion.