SEC busts options traders for exploiting BHP/Potash deal

Washington, D.C., Aug. 24, 2010 — The Securities and Exchange Commission has charged two residents of Madrid, Spain with insider trading and obtained an emergency court order to freeze their assets after they made nearly $1.1 million in illegal profits by trading in advance of last week's public announcement of a multi-billion dollar cash tender offer by BHP Billiton Plc to acquire Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc.

The SEC alleges that Juan Jose Fernandez Garcia and Luis Martin Caro Sanchez purchased — on the basis of material, non-public information about the impending tender offer — hundreds of "out-of-the-money" call option contracts for stock in Potash in the days leading up to the public announcement of BHP's bid on August 17. Garcia is the head of a research arm at Banco Santander, S.A. — a Spanish banking group advising BHP on its bid. Garcia and Sanchez jointly spent a little more than $61,000 to purchase the contracts in U.S. brokerage accounts. Immediately after BHP's offer was announced publicly on August 17, Garcia and Sanchez sold all of their options for illicit profits of nearly $1.1 million.

"Garcia and Sanchez tried to move off-shore highly suspicious trading profits made just a few days before. When abusive market practices occur, as in the case against Garcia and Sanchez, we will act swiftly and decisively to deny wrongdoers the profits of their illegal activity," said Daniel M. Hawke, Chief of the Enforcement Division's Market Abuse Unit.

According to the SEC's complaint filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and unsealed by the court today, BHP made an unsolicited $38.6 billion offer to purchase all of the stock of Potash for $130 per share in cash. The acquisition share price represented a 16 percent premium above Potash's closing price of $112.15 on August 16. Potash, based in Saskatoon, Canada, is the world's largest producer of fertilizer minerals and its stock trades on the New York Stock Exchange. BHP, based in Melbourne, Australia, is the world's largest mining company.

The SEC alleges that Garcia was in possession of material, nonpublic information regarding BHP's offer to acquire Potash while he purchased approximately 282 call option contracts for Potash stock from August 12 to 16. The majority of the contracts were set to expire on August 21, and all but six of the call option contracts purchased by Garcia were out-of-the-money. Sanchez, while in possession of material, nonpublic information regarding BHP's offer to acquire Potash, purchased approximately 331 out-of-the-money call option contracts for Potash stock on August 12 and 13. He purchased the contracts in an account at Interactive Brokers LLC — the same U.S. brokerage firm through which Garcia traded his Potash call option contracts. Sanchez's contracts were set to expire within weeks of the purchase date. Neither individual had previously traded this year in Potash securities through his account at Interactive Brokers.

The emergency court order obtained late Friday by the SEC on an ex parte basis and unsealed by the court today freezes approximately $1.1 million in assets and, among other things, grants expedited discovery and prohibits Garcia and Sanchez from destroying evidence.

The SEC alleges that Garcia and Sanchez violated Sections 10(b) and 14(e) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rules 10b-5 and 14e-3 thereunder. In addition to the emergency relief, the Commission is seeking permanent injunctions, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains with prejudgment interest, and financial penalties.

The SEC's Market Abuse Unit headed by chief Daniel M. Hawke and deputy chief Sanjay Wadhwa conducted the expedited investigation in this matter jointly with the agency's Chicago Regional Office. Chicago-based Market Abuse Unit staff involved in the investigation include Kathryn A. Pyszka, Frank D. Goldman and Dee A. O'Hair. Other Chicago Regional Office staff involved are R. Kevin Barrett, James Lundy and Steven C. Seeger under the leadership of Regional Director Merri Jo Gillette and Associate Regional Director Timothy Warren.

The SEC's investigation is continuing.

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