Leading Chinese capital markets law firm Jingtian & Gongcheng says it was fined $50,000 by China’s securities regulator over its failure to perform adequate due diligence on an initial public offering.
The firm received a penalty notice from the China Securities Regulatory Commission on Feb. 12. In addition to the fine, Jingtian & Gongcheng says it was ordered to disgorge $25,000 in legal fees and that the individual lawyers involved in the IPO at the issue were each fined $16,700.
With the penalty, however, a four-month suspension from submitting IPO applications to the CSRC was lifted.* The firm says it has now fully resumed its practice advising on listings on the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges.
The Asian Lawyer reported in October that the CSRC had stopped taking IPO applications from Jingtian & Gongcheng because of concerns over the firm’s representation of Tianfon Energy-saving Panel Science and Technology Co. Ltd. The solar panel maker’s planned Shenzhen IPO was canceled after discrepancies were discovered during a random check of the company’s audit reports. On June 14, an official investigation against Jingtian & Gongcheng was launched by the CSRC, but the firm said the suspension on applications did not take place until October.
The CSRC’s actions against Jingtian & Gongcheng were part of a larger crackdown on IPO conduct by law firms, banks and accounting firms. Two other major Chinese law firms were similarly punished for inadequate IPO due diligence; Dacheng Law Offices and JunZeJun Law Offices were fined $164,000 and $197,000, respectively.
Though a number of Chinese lawyers have said they expect the CSRC’s actions to prompt firms to put more stringent internal controls in place, many have also harshly criticized the crackdown as unfairly blaming lawyers for a flawed system.
One partner in a Beijing firm told The Asian Lawyer in November: “How can you give a flawless legal opinion given the way things work in China? You can’t just assume everything can be checked out. They can’t. The CSRC sets a goal that cannot be reached. Some companies have been cooking the books for years. How can you expect lawyers to fix that?”
*Correction, 3/14/14: A previous version of this story stated that Jingtian & Gongcheng had been suspended from filing IPO applications to the CSRC for eight months. A correction has been made to the effect that while the investigation lasted for eight months, starting June 14, 2013, the suspension started in October.