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Facebook friends land stock investors in ‘insider trading’ soup

SEBITo catch manipulators, markets regulator Sebi has begun looking into social media accounts of suspected persons, with ‘mutual friends on Facebook’ being cited as evidence for the first time in an insider trading case.

While Sebi has been examining Twitter and Facebook for quite some time for investigation purposes, this is the first time the regulator has used Facebook account as evidence for proving charges against an individual.

In an insider trading case, Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) has ordered impounding of unlawful gains of over Rs 2 crore from 15 individuals.

These individuals were allegedly ‘connected entities’ and had traded in the shares of Palred Technologies Ltd (PTL) while possessing price-sensitive information and allegedly made unlawful gains in the process, Sebi found.

These persons are Palem Srikanth Reddy (CMD of PTL), P Soujanya Reddy, Ameen Khwaja, Noorjahan Khwaja, Ashik Ali Khwaja, Rozina Hirani Khwaja, Shefali Ameen Khwaja, Shahid Khwaja, Kukati Parvathi, Pirani Amyn Abdul Aziz, Karna Ramanjula Reddy, Umashankar S, Raja Lakshmi Srivaiguntam, Prakash Lohia and Mohan Krishna Reddy Aryabumi.

In his 15 page-order, Sebi’s whole time member Prashant Saran said: “Pirani Amyn Abdul Aziz is also found to be connected to Ameen Khwaja through mutual friends on Facebook.

He was employed with Deloitte Tax Services India Pvt Ltd (a group company of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India Pvt Ltd, which had conducted the due diligence of PTL during the slump sale).”

A probe conducted by Sebi in the share price of Palred Technologies between September 2012 to November 2013 revealed that the entities had traded in the shares of the company on the basis of unpublished price-sensitive information (UPSI) pertaining to slump sale of its software solutions business and declaration of interim dividend and made profits to the tune of Rs 1.66 crore.

By indulging in such activities, these persons have violated the regulator’s Prohibition of Insider Trading (PIT) norms, it said.

“Non-interference by the regulator at this stage would therefore result in irreparable injury to interests of the securities market and the investors,” Saran said in an order dated February 4.

Accordingly, the watchdog has ordered impounding of the “alleged unlawful gains of a sum of Rs 2,22,14,383 (including interest) from the date of buy transactions to January 31, 2016) jointly and severally from the persons.”

“If the funds are found to be insufficient to meet the figure of unlawful gains, then the securities lying in the demat account of these persons shall be frozen to the extent of the remaining value”, Sebi said.

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