The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has announced that it has charged BlackRock, one of the world’s largest investment management firms, for misleading investors by inaccurately describing its investments in the entertainment sector.
The agency found that BlackRock failed to disclose certain risks associated with its investments, leading investors to make decisions based on incomplete information. As part of a settlement agreement, the financial behemoth has agreed to pay a penalty of $2.5 million to resolve the charges.
SEC Charges BlackRock for Misleading Investors
In an Oct. 24 press release, the SEC announced it charged BlackRock with misleading investors by failing to accurately describe significant investments in the entertainment sector.
The investments were part of BlackRock Multi-Sector Income Trust (BIT), a publicly traded fund advised by the giant. In a settlement agreement, the company consented to pay a $2.5 million penalty.
The SEC’s investigation revealed that from 2015 to 2019, BIT had made substantial investments in Aviron Group, LLC, a firm focused on developing print and advertising plans for one to two films per year.
BlackRock’s public documents filed with the SEC inaccurately represented Aviron as a “Diversified Financial Services” company. These inaccuracies appeared in multiple annual and semi-annual reports publicly available to investors.
“Accurate disclosures of a closed-end or mutual fund’s portfolio are crucial for retail and institutional investors to evaluate their investment decisions,” stated Andrew Dean, Co-Chief of the SEC’s Enforcement Division’s Asset Management Unit. He emphasized that investment advisers should provide this vital information, noting that BlackRock failed to do so regarding the Aviron investment.
Additionally, the SEC found that BlackRock had overstated the interest rate that Aviron was paying, further misguiding investors. BlackRock corrected these errors in 2019, revising its reports to describe Aviron’s industry and interest rate accurately.
BlackRock Agrees to Cease and Desist Order
BlackRock agreed to the SEC’s order, which determined that it violated the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 and the Investment Company Act of 1940. In addition to the monetary penalty, BlackRock has agreed to a cease-and-desist order and censure without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings.
Meanwhile, the SEC had also previously charged William Sadleir, the founder of Aviron, in 2020. Sadleir was accused of misappropriating BIT funds invested in his company.
According to the agency, he defrauded BlackRock Multi-Sector Income Trust, the principal investor of Aviron, of at least $13.8 million from the $75 million investment. He then proceeded to misuse the embezzled funds for personal and business expenses. However, the action against Sadleir has since been resolved.
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