SEC Sues Fund Adviser for Fees Charged in Breach of Duty Under the Investment Company Act
The Securities and Exchange Commission today sued AMMB Consultant Sendirian Berhad (AMC), a Malaysian investment adviser, alleging that for more than a decade, AMC charged a U.S. registered fund for advisory services that AMC did not provide. The SEC alleges that by doing so, AMC breached its fiduciary duty with respect to compensation under the Investment Company Act of 1940.
Kuala Lumpur-based AMC served as a sub-adviser to the Malaysia Fund, Inc., a closed-end fund that invests in Malaysian companies, whose principal investment adviser is Morgan Stanley Investment Management, Inc. (MSIM). The SEC alleges that AMC misrepresented its services during the fund’s annual advisory agreement review process for each year for more than 10 years, and AMC collected fees for advisory services that it did not provide.
AMC, a unit of AMMB Holdings Berhad, one of Malaysia’s largest banking groups, agreed to pay $1.6 million to settle the SEC’s charges, without admitting or denying the allegations. The case follows the SEC’s recent related action against the Malaysia Fund’s primary adviser, MSIM, and is part of an inquiry into the investment advisory contract renewal process by the SEC Enforcement Division’s Asset Management Unit.
“We are committed to ensuring that advisers to registered funds adhere to their fiduciary duty with respect to the receipt of compensation. Here, AMC breached that duty by charging fees for services that were not rendered,” said Bruce Karpati, Chief of the Asset Management Unit in the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.
AMC’s advisory fees were approved each year from 1996 to 2007 as part of the “15(c) process,” a reference to Section 15(c) of the Investment Company Act of 1940, which requires a registered fund’s board to annually evaluate the fund’s advisory agreements, and advisers to provide the board with information reasonably necessary to make that evaluation.
According to the SEC, AMC submitted a report to the Malaysia Fund’s board of directors each year that falsely claimed that AMC was providing specific advice, research, and assistance to MSIM for the benefit of the fund. In reality, the SEC’s complaint said AMC’s services were limited to providing two monthly reports based on publicly available information that MSIM did not request or use. Moreover, the SEC alleged that AMC failed to adopt and implement adequate policies, procedures, and controls over its advisory business, contrary to certifications provided to the fund’s directors in 2006 and 2007. AMC’s advisory agreement with the fund was terminated in early 2008 after the SEC’s examination staff inquired about the services AMC was purportedly providing to the fund.
The SEC’s complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, alleges that AMC breached its fiduciary duty with respect to the receipt of compensation within the meaning of Section 36(b) of the Investment Company Act of 1940. The SEC also alleges that AMC violated Sections 206(2) and (4) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, and Rule 206(4)-7 thereunder, and Section 15(c) of the Investment Company Act of 1940. AMC consented to a judgment that bars it from violating these provisions in the future. AMC has also agreed to disgorge $1.3 million of its advisory fees paid by the fund and pay a $250,000 penalty.
Chad Alan Earnst, Christine Lynch, and Jessica Weiner, of the Enforcement Division’s Asset Management Unit staff, conducted the investigation along with Tonya Tullis and Edward D. McCutcheon. Karen Stevenson, Susan Schneider, and Dennis Delaney conducted the related examinations.
The SEC acknowledges the assistance of the Securities Commission of Malaysia and the Monetary Authority of Singapore.