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U.S. Judge Dismisses Class Action Over Xinhua Finance MediaJanuary 1, 0001
On February 26, 2009, the U.S. District Court of New York dismissed the class action lawsuit against Xinhua Finance Media (“Xinhua”), its CEO, former CFO, and the company’s IPO underwriters. This decision is important for Chinese companies listed on U.S. stock markets as it addressees many issues typically linked with Chinese companies’ IPO disclosures. Also, this decision shows that Chinese issuers can expect to receive careful and impartial examination in U.S. courts as U.S. issuers.
Xinhua is a leading media group in China with nationwide access to the upwardly mobile demographic. Plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in May 2007, immediately following the company’s March 2007 IPO of American Depository Shares. Plaintiffs alleged that the prospectus issued in connection with the IPO was misleading because it omitted certain material information and had thus inflated the stock price, including failing to disclose (i) that the former CFO, Singhal, was a defendant in a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act lawsuit in California and that he was involved with other companies that had regulatory issues; (ii) that the CEO and Chairman of the Board, Loretta Fredy Bush, allegedly invested in Xinhua using money from offshore accounts and loans for tax evasion purposes; and (iii) that Xinhua was allegedly involved in corporate transactions that enriched Singhal and Bush.
The federal court concluded that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim and dismissed the lawsuit. The court concluded that the plaintiffs failed to allege that the prospectus omitted “material” information -- that is, information that was necessary to make Xinhua’s prospectus disclosures not misleading. For example, the judge held that Xinhua’s disclosures about Bush as a whole focused on the experience that Bush and the rest of the team had with international media operations, and none of the omissions called into question this aspect of the management team’s experience. As to the allegation that Xinhua had failed to disclose certain information about the former CFO, Singhal, rendering the prospectus’s statement about the “strong and experienced management team” misleading, the court held that the statement was merely puffery and that any allegation that the omissions affected the veracity of that statement was immaterial. Finally, the court rejected the plaintiffs’ claim that the prospectus had failed adequately to disclose risks associated with the lawsuit in California because neither the statements nor the risk disclosure section of the prospectus as a whole suggested that every conceivable possibility of a negative event would be discussed in the prospectus.
Xinhua case is instructive to Chinese companies listed on U.S. capital markets because it involves Section 11 claims to which many Chinese companies listed on U.S. exchanges are susceptible. For example, Section 11 claims were asserted in the U.S. securities lawsuits against China Life and Fuwei Films. Section 11 of the Securities Act of 1933 makes it unlawful to make false statements or omissions of material facts in the registration documents filed in connection with an offering of securities. The central inquiry in a Section 11 claim is whether the representations in a prospectus, taken together and in context, would have misled a reasonable investor. Certain aspects of Chinese companies’ operations may particularly heighten the risks of triggering Section 11 liability. For example, some privatization processes through which many listed companies obtain their main assets may be questionable under Chinese law because of the risks associated with any bankruptcy auction process and potential charges of disposing state-owned property in unfairly low price. In such cases, registration statements that do not caution investors on those potential risks may be alleged as misleading. Problems of the usually more opaque mainland parent company, such as commercial bribery, financial fraud, or non-arm’s length related party transactions, could also be imputed to the listed entity for disclosure purposes. Furthermore, many macro events within China can affect a company’s future, including the passage of new laws, a change in the exchange rate policy, a reorganization of the legal system or any policy change that may have an impact on economic growth. Failure to disclose sufficient information about such macro events might be actionable under Section 11 of the securities laws.
While the Xinhua decision is not by itself remarkable, it is another in the increasing number of U.S. securities lawsuits involving Chinese companies and should provide some comfort to Chinese companies concerned with their ability to get fair treatment in U.S. courts.
 See 15 U.S.C. §77k(a) (2000).
新华是一家中国领先的媒体集团，拥有覆盖全国的网络，主要受众为中国的新富一族。原告提起诉讼的时间为2007年5月，即2007年3月新华完成美国存托股份的首次公开募股后。原告诉称，该公司首次公开募股的招股书中遗漏了某些重要信息，致使该招股书产生误导，并使其股价虚高，未披露的重要信息包括：(i)前首席财务官Singhal曾是加利福尼亚州一起《反勒索及受贿组织法》诉讼中的被告，并与存在监管问题的另几家公司有牵连；(ii) 首席执行官兼董事会主席Loretta Fredy Bush涉嫌为逃税利用境外帐户和贷款资金投资于新华；以及 (iii) 新华曾涉嫌卷入使Singhal和Bush得利的公司交易。
 请参见15《美国法典》§77k(a) (2000).
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