FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Washington, D.C., Oct. 11, 2011 – The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged former bank executives with misleading investors about mounting loan losses at San Francisco-based United Commercial Bank during the height of the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009.
The SEC alleges that the bank’s former chief executive officer Thomas Wu, chief operating officer Ebrahim Shabudin, and senior officer Thomas Yu concealed losses on loans and other assets from the bank’s auditors, causing the bank’s public holding company UCBH Holdings Inc. (UCBH) to understate 2008 operating losses by at least $65 million (approximately 50 percent). A few months later, continued declines in the value of the bank’s loans led the bank to fail, and the California Department of Financial Institutions closed the bank and appointed the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) as receiver. United Commercial Bank was one of the 10 largest bank failures of the recent financial crisis, causing a loss of $2.5 billion to the FDIC’s insurance fund.
“Today’s charges reflect an all too familiar pattern – corporate executives once seen as rising stars embrace deception to avoid losses and conceal negative news, with investors and the FDIC insurance fund left to pick up the pieces,” said Robert Khuzami, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “But accountability for these executives begins today.”
Marc Fagel, Director of the SEC’s San Francisco Regional Office, added, “This investigation shows how federal regulators can work together to ferret out fraud by the guardians of financial institutions entrusted to deal honestly with public investors.”
According to the SEC’s complaint filed in federal court in San Francisco, UCBH and its subsidiary United Commercial Bank grew rapidly, doubling in size after an initial public offering in 1998. It was the first U.S. bank to acquire a bank in the People’s Republic of China, and Wu was considered a rising star in the banking industry. By 2009, however, Wu found himself at the helm of a bank on the brink of failure.
The SEC alleges that Wu, Shabudin, and Yu deliberately delayed the proper recording of loan losses, and each committed securities fraud by making false and misleading statements to investors and UCBH’s independent auditors. During December 2008 and the first three months of 2009 as the company prepared its 2008 financial statements, Wu, Shabudin, and Yu were aware of significant losses on several large loans. Among other things, these executives allegedly learned about dramatically reduced property appraisals and worthless collateral securing the loans, yet they repeatedly hid this information from UCBH’s auditors and investors.
The SEC’s complaint also alleges that the bank’s former chief financial officer Craig On acted negligently by misleading the company’s outside auditors and aiding the filing of false financial statements. On agreed to settle the SEC charges without admitting or denying the allegations. He will be permanently enjoined from violating certain antifraud, reporting, record-keeping, and internal controls provisions of the federal securities laws and will pay a $150,000 penalty. On also consented to an administrative order suspending him from appearing or practicing before the SEC as an accountant, with a right to apply for reinstatement after five years.
The litigation against the other defendants is ongoing.
Lloyd Farnham, Michael Fortunato, Jason Habermeyer, and Cary Robnett of the SEC’s San Francisco Regional Office conducted the SEC’s investigation. The SEC’s litigation will be handled by Lloyd Farnham and Robert Mitchell.
The U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California today announced parallel criminal charges against former employees of the bank, and the FDIC announced enforcement actions against 13 individuals for violations of federal banking regulations.
The SEC acknowledges the assistance of the FDIC, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP), FDIC’s Office of Inspector General, and Office of Inspector General for the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.
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For more information about this enforcement action, contact:
Marc Fagel, Regional Director