U.S. SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
Litigation Release No. 22264 / February 22, 2012
Accounting and Auditing Enforcement No. 3372 / February 22, 2012
SEC v. Ming Zhao and Liping Zhu, Civ. No. 12-CV-1316
SEC Charges Chairman and Ex-CEO of Puda Coal With Fraud
On February 22, 2012, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil injunctive action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York charging the Chairman of Puda Coal, Inc. (“Puda”) and the former CEO of Puda with securities fraud for the undisclosed theft of the primary asset of the U.S. public company they controlled. The Commission’s complaint alleges as follows:
Defendants Ming Zhao, the Chairman of Puda, and Liping Zhu, Puda’s former CEO, perpetrated a massive fraud on Puda’s public shareholders by effectively stealing and selling Puda’s operating subsidiary. Before the defendants’ fraud, Puda held an indirect 90% ownership stake in Shanxi Puda Coal Group Co., Ltd (“Shanxi Coal”), a coal mining company located in the Shanxi Province of the People’s Republic of China (“PRC”). In September 2009, just weeks before Puda announced that Shanxi Coal had received a highly lucrative mandate from the provincial government authorities to become a consolidator of smaller coal mining companies, Zhao, with Zhu’s knowledge and complicity, transferred Puda’s 90% stake in Shanxi Coal to himself. In July 2010, Zhao transferred a 49% equity interest in Shanxi Coal to CITIC Trust Co. Ltd. (“CITIC Trust”), a Chinese private equity fund controlled by CITIC Group, which is reported to be the largest state-owned investment firm in the PRC. CITIC Trust placed its 49% stake in Shanxi Coal in a trust and then sold interests in the trust to Chinese investors. In addition, Zhao caused Shanxi Coal to pledge 51% of its assets to CITIC Trust as collateral for a loan of RMB 3.5 billion ($516 million) from the trust to Shanxi Coal. In exchange, CITIC Trust gave Zhao 1.212 billion preferred shares in the trust. None of these asset transfers were approved by Puda’s board or its shareholders or disclosed in Puda’s various SEC filings, which Zhao and Zhu signed knowing that those documents were materially false and misleading. Puda also conducted two public offerings in 2010 in the U.S. without disclosing that it no longer had any ownership stake in the coal company, Puda’s sole source of revenue. Thus, at the same time that CITIC Trust was effectively selling interests in the coal company to Chinese investors, Zhao and Zhu were still telling U.S. investors that Puda owned a 90% stake in that company.
In addition, Zhao and Zhu continued their fraudulent scheme to deceive public investors even after the Commission began its investigation. As part of the fraud, Zhu forged a letter purporting to be from CITIC Trust which falsely stated that no funds had actually been loaned to Shanxi Coal and disclaimed any interest in Puda’s or Shanxi Coal’s assets. Zhao’s counsel then provided the forged letter to the Commission’s investigative staff and to Puda’s audit committee in an effort to create the false impression that Puda and its public shareholders had not been harmed by the asset transfers. After Puda disclosed the letter to the public in an SEC filing, further misleading shareholders about the ownership of Puda’s assets, the letter was exposed as a forgery. Zhu admitted forging the letter and resigned as CEO, but Zhao remains Chairman. As a result of the defendants’ fraud, Puda is now little more than a shell company, with no ongoing business operations.
Both Zhao and Zhu are charged in the Commission’s complaint with violations of Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933 and Sections 10(b), 13(b)(5), and 14(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”) and Rules 10b-5, 13b2-1, 13b2-2, 14a-3, and 14a-9a thereunder. Both men are also alleged to be liable pursuant to Section 20(a) of the Exchange Act as control persons of Puda for Puda’s violations of Sections 13(a), 13(b)(2)(A) and 13(b)(2)(B) of the Exchange Act and Rules 12b-20, 13a-1, and 13a-13 thereunder, and that they are also liable pursuant to Section 20(e) of the Exchange Act for aiding and abetting those violations. Zhu is also charged with violating Exchange Act Rule 13a-14. Finally, the Commission alleges, in the alternative, that Zhao and Zhu are liable pursuant to Section 20(a) of the Exchange Act as control persons of Puda for Puda’s violations of Sections 10(b) and 14(a) of the Exchange Act and Rules 10b-5(a), 10b-5(b), and 10b-5(c), 14a-3 and 14a-9, and that they are also liable pursuant to Section 20(e) of the Exchange Act for aiding and abetting those violations.
The complaint seeks a final judgment permanently enjoining the defendants from committing future violations of these provisions, ordering them to disgorge their ill-gotten gains plus prejudgment interest, imposing financial penalties and barring them from acting as officers or directors of a public company.