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US SEC awards US$22m to ex-Monsanto executive through whistleblower programme

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A former Monsanto Co executive who tipped the US Securities and Exchange Commission to accounting improprieties involving the company's top-selling Roundup product has been awarded more than US$22 million from the agency's whistleblower programme, the executive's lawyer said on Tuesday.

[NEW YORK] A former Monsanto Co executive who tipped the US Securities and Exchange Commission to accounting improprieties involving the company's top-selling Roundup product has been awarded more than US$22 million from the agency's whistleblower programme, the executive's lawyer said on Tuesday.

The award of US$22,437,800 was tied to an US$80 million settlement between the SEC and Monsanto in February, according to the lawyer, Stuart Meissner in New York, in a statement. It is the agency's second largest under the programme.

Mr Meissner declined to reveal the whistleblower's identity.

Monsanto said in an emailed statement, "It would be inappropriate for our company to comment on the SEC's whistleblower programme or this specific award."

The Dodd Frank financial reform law empowered the SEC to award money to whistleblowers who give information to the agency which leads to a fine.

Awards to 33 whistleblowers by the SEC's programme have now surpassed a total of US$107 million since the agency launched the programme in 2011, the agency said in a statement on Tuesday. The largest award, in 2014, was US$30 million, the agency said.

Monsanto's US$80 million SEC settlement followed allegations that the company misstated its earnings in connection with Roundup, a popular weed killer.

The SEC's case against Monsanto revolved around a corporate rebate program designed to boost Roundup sales.

The SEC had said that Monsanto 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 recognise the costs of the rebate programmes on its books.

That led the St Louis-based agriculture company to "materially" misstate its consolidated earnings for a three-year period.

Monsanto neither admitted nor denied the charges and said at the time that it fully reserved funds to pay for the penalty in fiscal year 2015.

The SEC announced the award earlier on Tuesday, but did not reveal the enforcement action to which it was linked or the whistleblower's identity.

"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, in a statement.

The award represents more than 28 per cent of the total penalty and nearly the 30 per cent maximum allowed under the SEC's bounty programme for payments higher than US$1 million, Mr Meissner said.

REUTERS