September 7, 2016
The Securities and Exchange Commission has paid out the second largest settlement in U.S. history to a former Monsanto executive who blew the whistle on the biotech giant’s shady business dealings involving Roundup, a widely used herbicide containing glyphosate which was labeled a probable human carcinogen by the World Health Organization last spring.
The whistleblower’s identity is being kept secret, according to reports, presumably to protect the individual from the potential backlash of powerful industry groups.
The former Monsanto executive, who exposed “accounting improprieties” involving Roundup, has been awarded more than $22 million, according to CNBC.
“The award of $22,437,800 was tied to an $80 million settlement between the SEC and Monsanto in February, according to the lawyer, Stuart Meissner in New York, in a statement.”
Federal government accuses Monsanto of fudging sales numbers for weed killer
The SEC has accused Monsanto of lying about its earnings for Roundup. The allegations specifically involve a corporate rebate program designed to increase sales of the product.
The agency said that the seed giant “lacked sufficient internal controls to account for millions of dollars in rebates that it offered to retailers and distributors. It ultimately booked a sizeable amount of revenue, but then failed to recognize the costs of the rebate programs on its books.”
Monsanto reportedly “materially” distorted its consolidated earnings over a three-year period. The company is said to have “neither admitted nor denied” the allegations, while stating in the fiscal year 2015 that it was fully prepared to pay the resulting penalties.
“Company employees are in unique positions behind-the-scenes to unravel complex or deeply buried wrongdoing. Without this whistleblower’s courage, information, and assistance, it would have been extremely difficult for law enforcement to discover this securities fraud on its own,” said Jane Norberg, acting chief of the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower.
SEC’s whistleblower program issues $107 million in five years
The agency was given the power to award whistleblowers under the Dodd Frank financial reform law, signed by President Obama in 2010 to prevent institutions from becoming “too big to fail.”
The program has so far awarded more than $107 million to 33 whistleblowers since its implementation in 2011. The largest award was issued in 2014, totaling $30 million.
Monsanto, of course, is no stranger to the legal system. The company is facing more resistance from the government over its plans to merge with John Deere, which manufactures farming, construction and forestry equipment.
Justice Department sues to block Monsanto, John Deere deal
Headquartered in Moline, Illinois, John Deere revealed its plans to acquire Monsanto’s Precision Planting back in November.
The Justice Department has filed a lawsuit to block the deal, arguing that if it goes through, it will give John Deere “a stranglehold on the market for high-speed precision-planting devices,” USA Today reports.
The two companies together sell 86 percent of all equipment in the precision-planting sector.
“If this deal were allowed to proceed, Deere would dominate the market for high-speed precision-planting systems and be able to raise prices and slow innovation at the expense of American farmers who rely on these systems,” said Renata Hesse, acting assistant attorney general of the Justice’s antitrust division.
John Deere and Monsanto claim that the merger is necessary to protect farmers, and will fight the lawsuit.
Monsanto is also considering an offer by the chemical and pharmaceutical giant Bayer. The German-based company offered $64 billion to purchase its agribusiness rival, Monsanto.