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U.S. charges former Equifax executive with insider trading

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government has filed criminal and civil charges against a former Equifax Inc EFX.N executive over alleged insider trading linked to last year's massive data breach at the credit reporting company, officials said on Wednesday.

Credit reporting company Equifax Inc. corporate offices are pictured in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., September 8, 2017. REUTERS/Tami Chappell

Jun Ying, a former Equifax technology executive, faces criminal charges filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia and anti-fraud civil charges filed by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Lawyers representing Ying declined comment.

It is the first time that the U.S. government has pursued insider trading charges against somebody accused of profiting from information about a cyber attack, said David Axelrod, a former SEC trial attorney who is a partner at law firm Ballard Spahr.

The SEC last month warned companies that executives should not trade on non-public information about breaches.

That guidance and the charges against Ying will likely prompt publicly-held companies to implement new procedures for dealing with trades by employees following a breach, Axelrod said.

The SEC’s complaint alleges Ying used confidential information to determine Equifax had suffered a massive data breach. He then exercised all vested Equifax stock options and immediately sold the stock, receiving over $950,000 in proceeds, the SEC said.

Equifax’s interim chief executive said in a statement that Ying left the company after it reviewed Ying’s trading activity and concluded he had violated its trading policies.

Atlanta-based Equifax said it reported its findings to the government and is “fully cooperating” with the Department of Justice and the SEC.

The SEC said it determined Ying avoided more than $117,000 in losses by selling stock before Equifax announced Sept. 7 that the personal information of nearly 150 million Americans had been compromised. The shares slumped as much as 37 percent after disclosure of the hack.

Equifax had been aware of the breach since July 29, days before some of its senior executives, including its chief financial officer, sold $1.8 million worth of company shares.

Equifax said the charges against Ying are unrelated to stock sales by other executives, which led to intense scrutiny from lawmakers who pressed the SEC to launch an insider trading investigation.

In November, Equifax said an internal investigation found that four executives who sold shares before the breach was disclosed were not aware of the incident when they made the trades.

The SEC said it is seeking disgorgement of ill-gotten gains by Ying as well as interest, penalties and injunctive relief.

Reporting by Pete Schroeder in Washington; Additional reporting by Jim Finkle in Toronto and Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Paul Simao