With four more securities suits involving Chinese or China-linked companies this past Friday, the phenomenon of securities class action lawsuits against these firms has emerged as one of the most distinct securities litigation trends so far this year. The filing trend actually first emerged in the second half of 2010, but it has continued into 2011 and appears to have gained significant momentum in recent weeks following recent revelations of accounting irregularities involving Chinese companies.
The four latest suits involving Chinese-linked companies are as follows:
1. China Electric Motor, Inc.: According to their April 1, 2011 press release (here), plaintiffs’ lawyers have initiated a securities class action lawsuit in the Central District of California against China Electric Motor, a Delaware corporation with its principle place of business in China, as well as the certain of its directors and officers and the underwriters who underwrote the company’s January 29, 2010 IPO.
According to the Complaint (here), the lawsuit follows the company’s March 31, 2011 announcement that it is forming a special committee to investigate accounting discrepancies “concerning the Company’s banking statements” identified by the company’s auditors. The company has delayed release of its fourth quarter and year end financial statements and trading in the company’s securities has been halted.
2. Advanced Battery Technologies, Inc.: In their April 1, 2011 press release (here), the plaintiffs’ lawyers state that they have filed a securities class action lawsuit in the Southern District of New York against Advanced Battery and certain of its directors and officers. According to the complaint (here), the company is a Delaware corporation with offices in New York that, through subsidiaries, owns two Chinese operating companies.
The complaint alleges that the company made misleading statements about its ownership interests in certain Chinese operating companies and that it failed to disclose or fully disclose certain related party transactions involving the company’s CEO. The complaint also alleges, relying heavily on a securities analyst’s report , that the company made false statements about its supposed investment in a company that may not even exist.
3. China Intelligent Lighting and Electronics, Inc.: According to the their April 1, 2011 press release (here), plaintiffs’ attorneys have filed a complaint in the Central District of California against the company, certain of its directors and officer and the investment banks that underwrote the company’s June 18, 2010. (One of the investment banks, Westpark Capital, was also involved in the China Electric IPO described above.) The company is a Delaware Corporation with its principle place of business in China. A copy of the complaint can be found here.
The lawsuit follows the company’s March 29, 2011 press release in which it announced the termination of its auditor, MaloneBailey LLP; its auditor’s resignation and withdrawal of the audit opinion it issued in connection with the prior year end financial statement; and the formation of a special investigation committee. The press release also discloses that the SEC has launched a formal investigation of t he company.
In the press release, the company also discloses that MaloneBailey resigned “due to accounting fraud involving forging of the Company’s accounting records and forging bank records.” The auditors also allegedly stated that the “accounting records at the company have been falsified.”
4. China Century Dragon Media: According to their April 1, 2011 press release (here), plaintiffs lawyers have filed a securities class action lawsuit against the company, certain of its directors and officers and against its offering underwriters. Among the offering underwriters named as defendant in the case is the Wespark Capital firm, which was involved in the China Electric Motor and China Advanced Lighting offerings described above. A copy of the complaint, which was filed in the Central District of California, can be found here.
The China Century Dragon Media lawsuit follows the company’s March 28, 2011 announcement of the resignation of its auditor, MaloneBailey LLP (the same firm as withdrew from auditing China Intelligent Lighting, as noted above), and the firm’s withdrawal of its prior audit opinions. The press release discloses that the auditor has resigned as a result of “irregularities” that may indicate that the company’s “accounting records have been falsified.” The discrepancies could also indicate material errors in the company’s prior financial statements. The company also disclosed that its shares have been delisted and the SEC has commenced a formal investigation.
These four new lawsuits join the seven suits that had previously been filed so far in 2011 against Chinese and China-linked companies. Of these eleven total lawsuits, six have been filed just since March 18, 2011. The eleven suits against Chinese-related firms already exceed the ten lawsuits that were filed against Chinese companies in 2010. Signs are that there may be further suits to follow shortly, as the law firm that filed all four of the above described lawsuits issued an April 1, 2011 press release (here) that it is investigating possible securities law violations involving Keyuan Petrochemicals (a Nevada corporation with its principal place of business in China), following the company’s April 1, 2011 announcement that it was delaying filing its year end financial statements and initiating an audit committee investigation of certain “concerns.”
The rash of lawsuits has arisen at the same time that the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board raised concerns in a March 14, 2011 report (here) about accounting and auditing standards at Chinese companies that have conducted IPOs in the U.S. or that have become U.S. publicly traded companies through reverse mergers. The report identifies a number of factors that may undermine the ability of audit firms to complete their audit functions completely or effectively. In light of the concerns in the PCAOB report, it hardly comes as a surprise that accounting concerns are coming to light in connection with some of these Chinese firms.
The allegations raised in these cases, like the allegations in the four cases described in detail above, fall into two basic categories: Inadequate disclosures involved related-party transactions (see especially Tongxin [here], China Valves Technology [here], and China Integrated Energy [here]), and accounting irregularities or accounting improprieties (see especially China Media Express [here], China AgriTech [here], ShegndaTech [here] and NIVS Intellimedia Technology Group [here].
Another familiar theme running through at least a few of these cases is that the lawsuits followed the resignation of the MaloneBailey firm as the defendant company’s auditors. The audit firm’s resignation preceded the lawsuits filed against NVIS Intellimedia Technology Group, China Intelligent Lighting and Electronics, and China Century Dragon Media. MaloneBailey is identified in Table 8 of the PCAOB report as the U.S.-based firm with the most Chinese reverse merger company clients. In addition, a number of the companies named as defendants in these suits conducted offerings with the investment bank Westpark Capital, Inc as one of their offering underwriters.
These firms’ involvement may well be purely coincidental. The larger pattern is that there seems to be a growing number of Chinese and China-linked companies that are announcing concerns related to the accounting and reported financial statements. Whether these issues will continue to emerge will remain to be seen. But for now, a securities litigation filing trend that first developed in the second half of 2008 seems to be going strong as we head into the second quarter of 2011.