* Tribunal orders Left to repay HK$1.6 million
* Grants “cease and desist” order on some activities
* Left says he plans to appeal (Adds Left’s reaction to the ban)
By Michelle Price
HONG KONG, Oct 19 (Reuters) - A Hong Kong tribunal banned Andrew Left, founder of U.S.-based short-seller Citron Research, for five years from the Hong Kong market in a landmark ruling against market manipulation in Asia’s financial capital.
Left said he planned to appeal the decision.
The Tribunal found Left culpable of market misconduct in connection with the publication of a research report on Hong Kong-listed Chinese property developer China Evergrande Group .
In a ruling on Wednesday, the tribunal also ordered Left to repay HK$1.6 million ($206,249) of profits made while shorting the stock.
The decision is expected to send a strong message that Hong Kong regulators will be tough on any form of market manipulation, which could potentially curb traders’ and analysts’ ability to criticise publicly traded companies.
The so-called “cold shoulder” ruling by Hong Kong’s Market Misconduct Tribunal (MMT) followed an August verdict that said Citron engaged in market manipulation by spreading false or misleading information.
“Having regard to what it considers to be the profound mischief this type of activity can cause, the tribunal is unanimously of the view in this particular instance that this cold shoulder order be for the maximum period of time,” Michael Hartmann, chairman of the tribunal, said.
In an email to Reuters, Left said: ”I do not believe the decision properly reflected the case, I did an extensive amount of research and am disappointed that the courts have stifled my freedom of speech.
“A definite step backwards for efficient markets,” he said in the email. “Yes, I plan on appealing.”
Typically such appeals can be made on the basis the law was misapplied, or there was an error of fact.
The tribunal also granted a “cease and desist” order against Left with respect to some activities, which puts Left on notice that if he breaks Hong Kong securities rules again the transgression will be treated as a criminal matter rather than a civil matter as this case is.
Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) alleged in December 2014 that Left profited after publication of the research report knocked nearly 20 percent off Evergrande’s share price. The report claimed that the developer was insolvent and had engaged in fraud.
The tribunal has yet to determine the costs Andrew must pay but the SFC is seeking HK$3.966 million for its expenses, in addition to government costs. (Reporting by Michelle Price; Editing by Lisa Jucca and Susan Thomas)