With the news about the coronavirus outbreak dominating the headlines, other important stories have faded into the background — though they definitely have not gone away. Among these important continuing stories is the U.S. trade war with China. The frontlines of this trade war are on the battlefield of economic competition, which these days includes, among other things, export and import controls and other coercive measures. As one commentator has put it, the “highest-profile example of the United States’ use of targeted coercive measures against China is its yearlong campaign against Huawei, China’s national-champion telecommunications company.” And as a recently filed lawsuit demonstrates, among the implications of the two countries’ competition – and specifically, the U.S. measures targeting Huawei – is a risk that affected companies can be exposed to government investigations and also to D&O claims.
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seadrillIn a prior post, I noted that among the implications of the international trade sanctions is the possibility that companies affected by sanctions could face D&O claims. Among the risks the sanctions program presents is the possibility that a company dealing with sanctions-related issues could face a follow-on securities lawsuit, as investors seek to hold the company and its senior officials liable for share prices declines following disclosure of sanctions-related issues.

In the Seadrill Limited Securities Litigation, a securities class action lawsuit pending in the Southern District of New York, investors sued the company, a subsidiary, and certain of its directors and officers, for the company’s elimination of its dividend and loss of significant business with a Russian oil company subject to international sanctions following Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea. On June 20, 2016, in an interesting opinion (here), Southern District of New York Lorna Schofield granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the Seadrill case. Due to the case’s factual circumstances, the opinion makes for some interesting reading. In any event, the case represents an important example of the possibilities for D&O claims arising from sanctions-related issues.
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vascoIn the latest example of a case where alleged violations of U.S. trade sanction laws have led to a follow-on civil lawsuit, on July 28, 2015, a plaintiff shareholder filed a securities class action lawsuit against VASCO Data Security International and certain of its directors and officers. The lawsuit follows the company’s announcement that it has self-reported a possible violation of federal prohibitions against sales of goods to parties in Iran. A copy of the plaintiff’s complaint can be found here.
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